During a debate yesterday between top national security advisers to the Obama and Romney campaigns, top Romney aide Amb. Richard Williamson got peppered with questions about where Mitt Romney would get the money to boost defense spending. Though taking the question no less than four times during the debate, Williamson balked at answering directly, haltingly offering up platitudes, deflecting and dodging.
The seeming contradiction between growing military spending and cutting revenue proposed by Romney, while pledging to cut the national debt, already befuddles budget experts. Romney’s plan would increase military spending by nearly $2 trillion with no plan to pay for it while his aides have described the boosts in military spending as mere “target” numbers depending on economic growth.
Debate moderator Marvin Kalb asked Williamson twice successively how Romney would pay for military spending, and followed up again after a Congressional Quarterly reporter asked during the question and answer period. Williamson’s first answer to Kalb was typical of his repeated dodges:
KALB: I don’t know anybody who thinks you can increase defense spending, cut taxes, and do anything about the national debt. So how do you do that, sir?
WILLIAMSON: I should introduce you to more people. […] It can be done. What the governor’s been clear about is we have to rebuild Navy. He’s called explicitly for 14 more ships a year.
Obviously there’s a philosophical debate between President Obama and Governor Reagan on the economy — excuse me, Governor Romney and President Obama on the economy. It’s one that the American people are intensely interested in. Governor Romney wants to keep discussing that issue and allow the American people to make a decision. Whether you create growth by more revenue, or — I don’t want to — spending on the stimulus and other things that he would argue are a waste of money, versus trying to support and unleash the private sector for growth.
Watch a video of the exchanges:
Kalb then asked how, until the economy supposedly comes around, Romney would get the money in the next few years. Williamson offered to send a campaign economic adviser to discuss the matter, then went back to “philosophical differences.” Later, when CQ asked where the money would come from, Williamson called for “incentives in the private sector,” deregulation, and cutting Obamacare. When Kalb followed up yet again, Williamson cited current economic statistics, blaming the stimulus and Obamacare.
As Dana Milbank pointed out in the Washington Post today:
If Romney wants to make good on his vow to increase defense spending by $2.1 trillion, and he also wants to make good on his support for the tax cuts incorporated in the House Republicans’ budget, he would need to cut the rest of the government’s functions — including Social Security and Medicare benefits — by about 14 percent, according to the Center for American Progress.
Short of cutting those popular programs, Milbank wrote, Romney would “need to shut down all functions of the departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, Interior, Justice, Labor and Treasury as well as the National Institutes of Health.”