As you may recall, under the debt-limit increase that Congress worked out, a 12-member "super committee" of Republican and Democrat lawmakers is looking for ways to reduce deficits by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. In addition to spending cuts, the committee unwisely will consider "revenue enhancements" -- meaning tax increases -- as a means to reduce deficits.
We would much prefer that the committee focus on spending cuts, not tax increases. That's because wasteful spending -- not "inadequate" taxation -- saddled our country with such massive debt in the first place.
However, Democrats in Congress have made it clear they want not only higher taxes but huge cuts in spending on our national defense.
We do not question the painful reality that all federal spending deserves close scrutiny, nor that there is waste in defense spending just as there is in other areas of the federal government. Rooting out that waste is a legitimate function of the congressional super committee in the coming months, before it presents its deficit reduction plan to the full Congress before Thanksgiving.
But we would remind federal lawmakers that national defense is the single most important constitutional duty of Congress and the president. Eliminating real waste, duplicated services and other unjustified Pentagon spending is perfectly reasonable. But gutting national defense and leaving our country more vulnerable to rogue terrorists or to nations that sponsor terrorism is not.
Nations throughout history have learned by bitter experience that military weakness or the appearance of military weakness can invite attack. It is vital, therefore, that we maintain military readiness.
Our new defense secretary, Leon Panetta, says the possibility of big, across-the-board cuts in defense spending pose a serious threat to U.S. security. Defense is already being cut by $350 billion, he noted, and hundreds of billions of dollars in additional cuts could be dangerous.
Congress should heed his warning and avoid cuts to defense that might harm our ability to prevent terrorist or other attacks -- or to respond if those attacks take place.