Paul Ryan’s Budget ‘Leadership’: Ignore Bloated Defense Spending

Since their catastrophic losses in 2008, Republicans have been trying to re-claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility and successfully rode a wave of spending discontent to win control of the House the 2010 midterms. During that time, many Republicans repeatedly said that America’s bloated defense budget must be included in federal government spending cuts. In January, Rep. John Campbell (R-CA) endorsed Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s modest proposal for Pentagon spending reductions but added that DOD should take “huge steps” beyond what Gates laid out. Another Republican, Rep. Kevin Brady (TX), recently proposed reducing Pentagon procurement by 15 percent.

Yet Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget he announced yesterday all but ignored calls from many in his party to rein in DOD spending. “The nation’s fiscal trajectory is simply not sustainable,” Ryan said yesterday, adding, “We need real leadership and that is what we intend to provide.” How did Ryan display this “leadership”? His plan not only slashes Medicare and Medicaid and eliminates President Obama’s new health care reform law, but it also cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans while most likely raising them for middle class Americans. And despite the fact that Ryan himself had previously called for Pentagon spending reductions, what did his budget proposal leave untouched? Defense spending, as Bloomberg reports:

The U.S. House Republican 2012 budget proposal represents the ceiling for talks on national security spending next year even as it leaves the Obama administration’s original $671 billion request intact, analysts and lawmakers said. […]

As part of his 2012 blueprint, Ryan accepted Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s proposal to yield $178 billion in savings over the next five years. Out of that amount, $100 billion would be spent elsewhere in the military and $78 billion would be applied to deficit reduction.

Ryan even said as much yesterday announcing his plan. “We think that Secretary Gates has done a good job of going through the Pentagon budget and looking for a bunch of waste and a lot of inefficiencies. So our budget reflects those policies,” he said.

Sounds good right? Well not exactly. Gates’s cuts will result only in a decline in the rate of growth in the Pentagon’s budget, not in absolute dollars. As CAP’s Larry Korb and Laura Conley pointed out, Gates’s plan “only slows down the rise of projected spending, rather than producing a much-needed reduction in the budget topline.” “There’s a lot more to the story,” Korb and Conley wrote:

First of all, the cuts might prove illusory. The federal government appropriates money one year at a time, and the vast majority of that $78 billion reduction would take place in 2014 and 2015, when there will be a new Secretary of Defense and possibly a new president.

In fact, Obama’s expected 2012 request of $553 billion would be 5% higher than what the Defense Department plans to spend this year. In inflation-adjusted dollars, this figure is higher than at any time during the Bush years or during the Cold War.

The reality is that Gates’s proposal is mostly smoke and mirrors, and Ryan and the GOP either seem to have bought it hook, line and sinker or they just don’t care. As Korb noted in a Politico op-ed, Gates’s plan would mean that over the next 4 years, the Pentagon will spend “almost 20 percent more than it did during the Bush years.”

So while Ryan is busy cutting much needed entitlements and giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, he leaves the bulging defense budget virtually untouched. But if Ryan and the GOP ever get serious about really cutting federal spending with significant reductions in defense spending, here are a couple proposals.