Steve Benen argues:

I continue to believe in a simple litmus test -- if you claim to believe in fiscal responsibility and want to cut the deficit, you can’t insist that the Pentagon budget is untouchable. It’s an immediate credibility killer, reflecting a fundamental lack of seriousness about the subject.

I understand his point, and it’s a good post, but I’m going to disagree with it. Put Peter Orszag, Mitch Daniels, Stan Collender, Keith Hennessey, and Robert Greenstein in a room, tell them each to produce three honest proposals for a balanced budget over 2020-2030 without touching the Pentagon, and hand them a sufficient supply of envelope backs, and in a couple of hours at most you’ll be looking at fifteen balanced budget proposals, ranging from conservative to liberal. Yes, national security is a huge chunk of discretionary spending, but raise taxes, slash Medicare, eliminate federal involvement in education and the environment...there are lots of ways to get there.

No, I understand what Benen is saying, but I’d go in a different direction. If you declare the Pentagon budget off limits but don’t support either higher taxes or draconian cuts in major programs, then you are not serious about national security. The United States is a fabulously wealthy nation; there are very few things that this country cannot afford. But if you’re not willing to pay for it, if you’re saying -- as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney said for eight years, with the approval of almost every Republican in Congress and most conservative pundits -- that taxes should be lower and the other major functions of the government should be preserved -- then whatever you say, it’s just lip service.

And of course that goes double for anyone trying to whip up the country into a frenzy about budget deficits without proposing a real budget that reduces the deficit without touching the Pentagon. 

Wanting it, in any serious way, means wanting to pay for it. For once, the household budget analogies do hold here. Claiming to want some level of national defense but that you’re not willing to pay for it is exactly the same as my “wanting” to fly to Philadelphia to attend NLCS Game Six -- if I’m not willing to open my wallet, it’s a nice thought, but it has nothing to do with reality. And on national security, there are a whole lot of people, including some of the most blustery neocons, who are living in Fantasyland.