A top Romney foreign policy advisor has indicated that Mitt Romney intends to incorporate war spending into his military budget even after 2014, when American troops are set to be out of Afghanistan. Speaking at a debate last night at the Military Reporters and Editors Association Conference in D.C., Dov S. Zakheim, a former Under Secretary of Defense in the Bush administration at one point incredulously claimed that Romney’s plan for Pentagon spending actually is a reduction in current rates.
Romney has advocated pegging military spending to 4 percent of GDP in the past, an increase of $2 trillion over ten years. Zakheim confirmed that 4 percent “is indeed Governor Romney’s policy. Full stop.”
When asked to explain the math behind his claim of reduction, Zakheim said Romney will keep incorporate war spending into the baseline budget even after the war in Afghanistan comes to a close:
ZAKHEIM: Here’s the point. The Overseas Contingencies Operations (OCO) account is essentially driven by Afghanistan and Iraq. Iraq is gone. And Afghanistan is being drawn down. [...] In which case that account, because it is driven by operations, comes down. The point though is you’ll still be taking some of that that money, there are billions of dollars in that account that really have a long-term implication and they’re not purely driven by Afghanistan operations. So you would move that into the baseline. So in theory, you would come down from 4.2 percent to 4 percent.
Prior to the development of the the Overseas Contingencies Operations budget, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were primarily funded by supplemental bills, outside of the normal budgetary process, driving up the deficit. While OCO funding levels are now incorporated into the overall federal budget, they remain separate from normal appropriations in that the funding is not tied to any one Department.
Zakheim is right in determining that current military spending is at 4.2 percent of GDP, but only when OCO spending is incorporated. According to the Obama administration’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request, OCO spending would be reduced to $96 billion, compared to about $112 billion in FY 2012. Those spending levels are currently predicted to fall much further after the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2014. Under Romney, they would instead become the new normal.
Michelle Flounroy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy under the Obama administration, repeatedly pressed Zakheim on how Romney would pay for the sustained increase and goals such as ramped up shipbuilding. Zakheim responded that the OCO accounts transfer, along with greater efficiencies at the Pentagon and an improved economy under a Romney administration would provide for the funding required. In other words, the Romney campaign still cannot offer specifics on how a Romney administration plans to pay for this massive increase in military spending.