Ryan’s Defense Budget Plays Partisan Politics Over Strategic Thinking
Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan has been both lauded and condemned for his views on the nation’s debt, but he is almost universally referred to as a “numbers guy.” His work on the House Republican budget put him in the spotlight as a fierce fiscal conservative long before his current rise. Few, however, have noticed how that work has dramatically changed. From 2011 to 2012, Ryan’s plan for the Pentagon budget shifted from conscientious to uncontrolled with little explanation as to why.
In his 2011 budget, Ryan supported Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s proposal to save $178 billion over five years in reductions and efficiencies, as well as the Obama administration’s plan for a smaller increase in spending, year over year. Ryan’s proposal closely paralleled the President’s request, but in doing so, enflamed some members of his own party. Anticipating the details of the forthcoming proposal, 29 members of the House Armed Services Committee, led by Chairman Buck McKeon, sent a letter to Speaker Boehner requesting a $7 billion increase above the President’s request.
In contrast, Ryan’s 2012 budget outlines a military that knows no bounds.
The 99-page “Path to Prosperity” calls for boosting Pentagon spending while reducing funding for entities such as the State Department and USAID by nearly $5 billion and enacting across the board budget cuts and freezes that would result in an $11 billion cut in funding for veterans. To add insult to injury, Ryan’s budget doesn’t mention “veterans” even once in its text.
In a time of increasingly dangerous economic pressure, the Pentagon needs a forward-looking, balanced defense strategy optimized for 21st-century threats, but there is no evidence that Ryan’s 2012 budget is based on anything more than the Republican preference for higher defense spending at the expense of other priorities. Ryan’s budget slashes the very tools we need to make us strong and applies arbitrary increases that ignore the realities of modern war.
When asked why he chose to plus up spending beyond commander requests, Ryan stated that “We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice.”
“I think there is a lot of budget smoke and mirrors in the Pentagon budget which is not really a true, honest and accurate budget,” he said. “When you confront military experts – retired or active – they concede these things to us.”
After considerable blowback from the likes of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey and others, Ryan walked back his comments, telling the CNN’s State of the Union that he “misspoke,” but Ryan’s budget speaks for itself by effectively ignoring the very recommendations those military experts set forth.
Romney’s answer to concerns over his running mate’s discrepancies is that his own budget plan will take precedence, but according to the Boston Globe, “Romney’s solution [defense budget plan] is one of the most far-ranging, expensive, and perhaps least understood of his campaign.” Romney would commit at least 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, without regard to strategy, to base defense spending that does not include the wars. That’s about 61 percent more over a decade than we spend now, and considerably more than Ryan himself has ever proposed. When Romney’s reason for the increase was evaluated by the Pulitzer-winning fact check website, Politifact, the argument was given its lowest truth-o-meter rating: “pants on fire.”
This is a dangerous time to play partisan politics with the budget. The Congressional Budget Office has recently issued a dire forecast of our nation’s future if Congress cannot get its budgetary house in order. Ryan may be perceived as a numbers guy, with a firm grip on both military strategy and the economic realities of today, but his current budget is clearly controlled by more than the numbers. If that fact indicates anything, it is that Ryan’s plan for the future is really no plan at all.
Laicie Olson is a Truman Partner.