Like all debates based on congressional budgets, last week’s argument over military spending was mostly symbolic. At the same time, this wasn’t just the usual Republican infighting over dismantling Obamacare or paying the government’s bills. The party is actually in a position to set some budget priorities for the Pentagon – if only its members can agree on what they are.

First, to dispense with the obvious: Cutting the growth of military spending, a vital objective, can’t really be done in short-term budgeting. Multibillion-dollar acquisitions such as the F-35 fighter jet involve countless contracts, often involving foreign militaries, and thousands of U.S. jobs that members of Congress won’t give up without a fight. Changing force structures, closing redundant bases and cutting back on the civilian workforce is a years-long process.

That said, there are a few short-term changes Congress and the Pentagon can make, should they so desire.

First is reforming retirement benefits, which bizarrely give a full pension to those who serve 20 years and nothing for those who leave earlier (the latter group is fully 83 percent of enlistees). In the longer term, the Pentagon needs to address two questions: What are the most likely threats the U.S. will face in coming decades, and what is the smartest way to counter them?