This morning at The Heritage Foundation, Representative Paul Ryan (R–WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, sat down with Heritage’s David Addington, Michael Franc, and Stuart Butler to discuss his budget proposal The Path to Prosperity: Restoring America’s Promise and President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget. The importance of maintaining a strong national defense while confronting the nation’s spending crisis played a prominent part in Ryan’s remarks.
In surveying the state of the U.S. military today and potential threats on the horizon, Ryan said that the President’s defense budget is inadequate. He said that strategic considerations should drive defense budget numbers, not the other way around. Unfortunately, the President’s defense budget, and the defense guidance that preceded it, were both budget-driven exercises.
Ryan expressed concern over end-strength troop reductions, saying that the U.S. has a tendency to draw down its forces after every conflict, leaving the United States ill prepared and ultimately placing our people at risk. Moreover, after 10 years of war and major wear and tear on military equipment, the U.S. military is in dire shape and needs to be “reset.”
Without the necessary reinvestment, Ryan said, the U.S. will not have the technological superiority and capability to compete against any potential adversary. “And other countries are catching up,” he said. “China is putting a lot of investment into their military.” Ryan’s message was simple: It’s time to repair the military, not cut another peace dividend.
The U.S. dramatically reduced defense spending after the Cold War. Since then, the military has been living off the build-up under Ronald Reagan. Defense increases after 9/11 were largely spent on 10 years of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, not modernization or recapitalizing forces (i.e., new planes, ships, or weapon systems). Rather than recapitalize the military, Obama’s budget sets the military on a path to going hollow.
Ryan’s budget proposal is consistent with the principle that national defense is the federal government’s most important priority, whereas President Obama’s budget will make defense the lowest priority by later this decade.
Ryan’s proposal restores roughly half the core defense funding cuts proposed by President Obama over a 10-year period. Importantly, it also puts off the most immediate budget threat to the nation’s security, which is the application of the Budget Control Act’s sequestration provision for defense, which would chop off around $55 billion from the defense budget in FY 2013 alone.
The President’s own Secretary of Defense has stated that sequestration would be “catastrophic,” while General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has stated that the U.S. will “no longer be a global power” if the sequestration hammer falls. Ryan’s proposal offers a way to avoid this coming train wreck.
Perhaps most significantly, Ryan’s proposal takes steps to address the most important long-term budget threat to the nation’s security: the explosive growth in entitlement spending and the dramatic increase in the debt and interest payments that go with it. In fact, by 2018, the U.S. will spend more on interest payments on the debt than on defense.
Indeed, if entitlement reform is not undertaken, in just a few decades there won’t be any money left at all in the federal budget for defense. Entitlement programs must be urgently reformed to be affordable and provide seniors economic security in retirement, lest they crowd out such vital roles of the federal government. Chairman Ryan should be commended for taking this bold step.
Ryan’s proposal puts defense funding on a different trajectory from the Obama budget. Rather than gutting defense, Ryan makes it a priority. While the Ryan budget does not fully ensure that the U.S. can meet all its traditional security commitments in the future, it puts preserving that posture within reach. It also sends the right message to America’s adversaries: We will not let the military become a hollow force.