To govern is to choose. And on Tuesday night, President Obama will lay out his priorities for the next year in the first State of the Union address of his second term.
Information leaked by to the press by the administration suggests that the president will focus his speech largely on the economy. But President Obama will also reportedly push to dramatically reduce the size of America's nuclear arsenal.
Nuclear weapons are a pet issue of President Obama's — he reportedly wrote his Columbia thesis on Soviet nuclear disarmament — so perhaps it is not surprising that the president wants to make his dream of a less armed United States a reality. And reducing the current arsenal is hardly a crazy idea. Presently, the United States' nuclear arsenal stands at around 1,700 bombs, a number that will shrink to 1,550 by 2018 as a result of a 2009 strategic arms treaty. A source told The New York Times the president "believes that we can make pretty radical reductions — and save a lot of money — without compromising American security in the second term."
Still, president will likely sell his plan, at least in part, as an easy way to reduce spending. But slashing the military budget will yield few long term fiscal benefits if the president and congressional Democrats are not willing to address the disease that truly threatens America's longterm fiscal stability: domestic entitlement spending.
Even if the president and congressional Democrats are willing to cut spending in the near future, you can bet they'll focus disproportionately on slashing defense spending while largely avoiding any meaningful reforms to the domestic spending programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) that will literally bankrupt the nation if they are not reformed in the near future.
And let's face it: Even if President Obama had the guts to make the hard decisions and push to meaningfully reform Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made it abundantly clear in her appearance on Fox News Sunday that she and her fellow Democrats would be in open revolt if the president wanted to do the right thing and reform domestic entitlements. Along with reaffirming her opposition to cutting Medicare benefits or raising the retirement age, Pelosi (amazingly) exclaimed that "[i]t is almost a false argument to say we have a spending problem." Instead, Pelosi suggests that we tax oil companies more.
With Pelosi living in an alternate reality where "it is almost a false argument to say we have a spending problem," we can expect the president to counteract Republican claims that Democrats are spending us into an early grave by proposing lots and lots of spending cuts to the military. Some of these changes will be justified, but some will be speculative, wishful, or perhaps downright harmful.
The president's desire to cut nuclear weapons falls into the speculative and potentially harmful category. Steep nuclear arms reductions may well trouble many of our European allies (Poland, for instance), who are non-nuclear explicitly because we guarantee to protect them with our nuclear weapons.
The Times story also suggests that the administration is eyeing military cuts that go well beyond a simple strategic rethinking of the way we deploy nuclear weapons — the White House is also busy trying to back its way out of the 10-year, $80 billion program set to modernize the country's weapons labs — something Obama promised Senate Republicans in return for their support of the president's last foray into reducing America's nuclear arsenal.
Maybe these are the only major military cuts the president has in mind, and maybe he intends to defy former Speaker Pelosi and get serious on entitlements. But make no mistake: If the President does not defy liberal Democrats, and instead tries to balance the budget by slashing defense, all his cuts will buy this country is a weaker military with an equally damned fiscal balance sheet.
See the Pelosi video for yourself:
Jeb Golinkin is a 3L at the University of Texas School of Law and writes about U.S. politics and policy for TheWeek.com. From 2008 to 2011, he served as an editor and reporter for Frum Forum/New Majority. Follow him on Twitter (@JGolinkin) and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.