Our Badly Run Budget

President George W. Bush was elected twice, promising to run the federal government like a business. Despite the fiscal crisis in Washington, there's no better time for the president to keep his promise than now.

As businesspeople, we know that CEOs are constantly balancing the twin needs of making money in the short term and investing in the future, so that profits don't disappear a few years down the line. Similarly, President Bush has to find money to pay for the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina in the short term -- while also investing in programs, like education, that are essential to our nation's long-term security.

Of course, the president could retract some of his tax cuts or withdraw troops from Iraq -- moves that could generate hundreds of billions of dollars. But assuming he won't, what to do?

Well, when the going gets rough in the free market, businesspeople call up their accountants and scrutinize the company budget. As our CEO-in-chief, President Bush needs to make an honest assessment of our national checkbook.

Such an analysis would reveal that the Pentagon budget, more than the ledger of any other single federal department, could yield big-time savings if subjected to the cost-cutting methodology of a business executive intent on ferreting out waste.

That view is held by former President Ronald Reagan's Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence J. Korb, who argues that America could save $60 billion by cutting weapons still being built or maintained, believe it or not, to fight the defunct Soviet Union.

These cuts, Korb points out, would not affect our nation's ability to fight terrorists or the Iraq war. (The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are funded by "supplemental" appropriations by Congress, not by the Pentagon's annual budget.)

It's true that even a whopping number like $60 billion will not cure America's fiscal woes, but it certainly is a big chunk of money.

A business-minded President, along with Congress, would decide how to spend the $60 billion with a cost-benefit analysis. Which of America's fiscal needs require immediate investments and which can be deferred?

From a business perspective, we can no longer defer spending required to prepare us for the defining wars of the new century, and these wars will be fought on economic battlefields.

So the top priority for our leaders now is to ensure that America has the arsenal it needs to win future economic battles. For $60 billion in wasted Pentagon funding, America could:
Retrain hundreds of thousands of workers. America's workers, the foot soldiers in economic battles, need training as the economy shifts.
Renovate our public schools and provide health insurance for our children. America's future recruits, our children, must be equipped with the skills they need to trump their adversaries in the global economy. We should begin upgrading America's crumbling public schools and provide health insurance to every kid who lacks it in our country, the world's richest.
Take steps toward energy independence. The nation with the most energy-efficient economy will possess the most devastating weapon in future global economic wars.
Help poor nations. To promote democracy and basic decency, we should double the federal budget for humanitarian foreign aid, saving the lives of millions kids who would die of hunger in impoverished nations.

In this era of budget scarcity, President Bush and Congress must undertake a hard-nosed and bipartisan analysis of the widely acknowledged waste in the Pentagon budget. This is the only way we can 1) strengthen our strategic security by reducing our dependence on oil and rebuilding our stature overseas; and 2) ensure our economic competitiveness and security by investing in the jobs of tomorrow and the kids of today who will hold them.

It's time for our CEO to be a strategic leader and to be accountable for our future.

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