When you think about ways to tame the nation's long-term deficit, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Slashing benefits for the old and sick? Or taking a few whacks at the spectacularly bloated defense budget?
The former option has, somehow, become the default position for Washington's ruling class, including President Obama's deficit commission.
But in April, a bipartisan group of iconoclasts in Congress led by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) formed their own task force to examine the latter possibility. The group of defense experts released their report on Friday, identifying nearly $1 trillion in defense budget cuts over the next 10 years that could contribute to deficit reduction "while not compromising the essential security of the United States."
Among the possible reductions cited in the report:
•Over $113 billion in savings by reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to 1,050 total warheads deployed on 450 land-based missiles and seven Ohio-class submarines;
•Over $200 billion in savings by reducing U.S. routine military presence in Europe and Asia to 100,000 while reducing total uniformed military personnel to 1.3 million;
•Over $138 billion in savings by replacing costly and unworkable weapons systems with more practical, affordable alternatives. Suggested cuts would include the F-35 combat aircraft, the MV-22 Osprey, and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.
•Over $60 billion in savings by reforming military health care; and
•Over $100 billion in savings by cutting unnecessary command, support and infrastructure funding.
Deficit hawkery appears to be overwhelming official Washington, despite the fact that the lackluster economy is sending clear signals even to the likes of non-radical Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that the last thing the nation needs right now is government spending cuts.
Even so, the defense budget seems off limits. Despite some lip service from the deficit commission, there is no serious indication that the requisite 14 of the group's 18 members will agree on anything that would involve defense cuts.
Even President Obama's proposed freeze on discretionary spending explicitly rules out any defense cuts.
By contrast, the deficit commission seems to be drawing a bead on the social safety net in general, and Social Security in particular.
Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page; subscribe to RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get e-mail alerts when he writes.