At a White House press conference on Wednesday , President Obama argued that the federal government has to spend on more than just Medicare, Social Security and defense, even if it means raising some taxes.

We can't get to the $4 trillion in savings that we need by just cutting the 12 percent of the budget that pays for things like medical research and education funding and food inspectors and the Weather Service.

The Weather Service? It's might be one of the best arguments for maintaining smart government spending — yes, there is such a thing — that you've never heard of.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's polar weather satellite is in trouble. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco recently spoke with me and some other Post editors, explaining that funding to replace the orbiting instrument was lost in the confusion of the last-minute 2011 budget negotiations between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner in April. But without money to replace the satellite soon, weather prediction across the globe would suffer. Without the instrument, she said, NOAA would have had difficulty predicting the massive “Snowmageddon” storms that pummeled Washington in 2010 or giving Americans along the Mississippi advance flood warnings this year.

Lubchenco hopes to make up some of the lost money in the 2012 budget. But she's also clearly worried. Not many on Capitol Hill are eager to cripple America's weather satellite system. But, since January, Congress and the White House have cut the domestic discretionary budget — the 12 percent that funds such investments — rather than the entitlements such as Medicare that are really fueling America's budget problems. With more cutting on the way, small but important priorities such as NOAA's polar orbiting satellite might lose out. Even though doing so only increases future costs, either by eroding the government's ability to forecast the weather, or, once Congress realizes those consequences, rushing to put a new satellite up. Every dollar we don't spend now will cost $3 later on, Lubchenco warned.

The biggest danger on debt is that our leaders don't do enough to balance America's books. The next biggest is that, whether guided by ideology, ignorance or desperation, our leaders decide to shortchange the cost-effective investments that will sustain my generation's standard of living, relegating us to crumbling infrastructure, poor education, pathetic government services — and, perhaps, sloppy weather reports.