Any serious proposal to reduce the federal deficit has to put defense spending on the table. Why? Let me count the ways:
- The baseline defense budget comprises 20 percent of the overall federal budget and 50 percent of the discretionary portion.
- The U.S. share of worldwide defense spending grew from one-third to one-half in the last decade. This means 5 percent of the world’s population accounts for 50 percent of the world’s military spending.
- The baseline defense budget has nearly doubled in the past decade and is now higher in real terms than what we spent on average during the Cold War when we were faced with an existential threat from another superpower.
- The Obama administration already plans to spend 20 percent more on defense than was spent on defense during the Bush administration.
- Total U.S. defense spending is now higher in real terms than at any time since World War II.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) “Path to Prosperity” not only fails to put defense cuts on the table; it actually wants defense spending to continue growing in real terms. Ryan’s “deficit reduction plan” calls for a $22 billion increase in defense for FY 2012, and he wants to increase the baseline budget by another $60 billion over the next four years. This means that in FY 2016, DOD would receive $642 billion. Ryan’s proposal would have us spend nearly $6.5 trillion on defense—exclusive of war costs—over the next decade.
Ryan’s plan puts him at odds with all of the groups established to bring the federal deficit under control: the Bowles-Simpson Commission, the Domenici-Rivlin Task Force, and the Frank-Paul Sustainable Security Defense Task Force. These groups recommended reducing projected expenditures over the next decade by about $1 trillion, which would bring defense levels back to the Cold War average in inflation adjusted dollars.
How did the person New York Times columnist David Brooks praised for his courageous leadership and for setting a standard of seriousness miss this? Apparently Ryan was taken in by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s claims that he has already proposed $178 billion in savings in defense spending. These were not real cuts. Gates plowed $100 billion of his “savings” back into the budget for other programs while the remaining $78 billion merely reduced projected growth in the defense budget.
The country, Congress, and the Republican Party deserve better than Ryan’s ignorance of defense.
Lawrence J. Korb is a Senior Fellow at American Progress.