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Originally published January 10, 2012 at 3:58 PM | Page modified February 6, 2012 at 11:43 AM

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Corrected version

Pentagon spending gets overdue scrutiny

Congressional review of U.S. military spending should be a strong bipartisan effort, not the grist for domestic politics. Spare the nation all the scare tactics and finger-pointing, there will be ample funds, even in a reduced budget, to protect U.S. interests.

Seattle Times Editorial

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PRESIDENT Obama's comprehensive defense review sets the stage for deep, long-overdue cuts in the Pentagon budget. Predictably, the debate will be as grounded in domestic politics as it is in global military strategy.

Expect anxious discussions very close to home in the nation's 435 congressional districts, with virtually every one of them artfully connected to that federal spending.

Those districts, and their politicians, jobs and voters, have always been the Defense Department's bulwark against budget cuts. Now the Great Recession's financial realities and the winding down of two wars has created both necessities and opportunities.

The Navy's hot pursuit of a second munitions wharf at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor at the very least invites the question heard at every other level of government, "where is the Navy willing to cut to find the $715 million?"

Times reporter Kyung M. Song described the doubt among local critics about the need to expand and enhance facilities to maintain the nation's nuclear submarine fleet, seen as a Cold War relic.

The future of America's nuclear triad — bombers, missiles and submarines — goes to the heart of the president's statement about "asking tough questions, challenging our own assumptions and making hard choices."

The U.S. is obligated by treaty to slim down its nuclear arsenal, and lean finances might reduce one leg of the delivery system, but it is not likely to be in the submarine fleet. Especially with a new sensitivity to Asia Pacific commitments.

Obama pledges a stronger presence, but he is also pushing $450 billion of defense cuts. Even bigger cuts are mandated by the failure of Congress to agree on an overall spending plan.

The Pentagon avoided scrutiny for decades. Two off-budget wars, and weapons programs without any connection to projected threats. Senior military ranks bloated along with spending on defense contractors.

As a pure investment of scarce resources, economists argue tax dollars consumed by the Pentagon have a greater impact when spent on health care, transportation, education and energy. In a lean economy, those words resonate.

U.S. military spending will be ample. The Navy's Pacific Command can still effectively argue it defends an area with 36 nations, enormous trade impact, half the world's population and the world's largest armed forces.

The defense budget is coming down, and the case for spending must be made, not assumed.

This editorial originally referred to the wrong number of U.S. congressional districts.

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