WASHINGTON _ Rep. Barney Frank is keeping up his pressure on the bipartisan deficit commission, enlisting dozens of fellow lawmakers today to urge the panel to recommend "substantial reductions" in defense programs to help rein in out-of-control spending.
"Given the size of our deficit and debt problems as well as the political challenges and policy controversies involved in implementing any solutions to them, it is clear to us that cutting the military budget must be part of any viable proposal," according to the letter.pdfsigned by 57 members of Congress, including most of the Massachusetts House delegation.
One Republican, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, also lent his support.
The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, established by President Obama, "is charged with identifying policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run," according to the group's website.
It is chaired by former GOP Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, who was chief of staff to President Clinton. Its members include a slew of Republican and Democratic senators and House members, along with representatives from think tanks, large corporations, and unions.
One key debate among the commissioners is whether to safeguard defense spending from any proposal for reducing government expenditures or to take on military programs as part of overall cost-cutting measures.
But a growing number of lawmakers say they believe paring back defense spending, which has doubled since 2001 to nearly $700 billion a year -- including the costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- must be part of any solution that brings the federal government's ledger back into balance.
As the lawmakers pointed out in today's letter to the commission, defense spending accounts for 56 percent of all discretionary federal spending. While some of it is directly related to war costs, the authors point out that nearly 37 percent of the growth in discretionary spending is from the Pentagon's "base" budget, which does not include war spending.
"Applying the adage that it is necessary to 'go where the money is' requires that rigorous scrutiny be applied to military spending," the lawmakers wrote to the deficit commission. "We believe that such an analysis will show that substantial spending cuts can be made without threatening our national security, without cutting essential funds for fighting terrorism, and without shirking our obligations as a nation to our brave troops currently in the field, our veterans, and our military retirees."
Frank, along with Paul and other members of the so-called Sustainable Defense Task Force in Congress, commissioned a study earlier this year by the Cambridge-based Project on Defense Alternatives that identifies ways to cut nearly $1 trillion from the defense budget over the next decade.
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.