During the first presidential debate, President Obama reiterated a policy proposal that barely holds water. His proposal to use so-called war savings from the troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan to pay for more domestic spending is nothing short of a budget gimmick. It would also justify continued federal spending excesses.
Obama argued for taking “some of the money that we’re saving as we wind down two wars to rebuild America and that we reduce our deficit in a balanced way that allows us to make these critical investments [on education, transportation, and infrastructure].”
It’s a myth that merits debunking.
Myth: Money not spent on wars overseas counts as budget savings.
Fact: The overseas military operations are winding down, so the federal government will spend less money in that area. Counting those spending reductions as new savings is an elementary budget gimmick.
In late 2011, when the super committee floated the idea of funneling these phony savings into domestic programs to create jobs, The Heritage Foundation’s Patrick Louis Knudsen was quick to bat it down:
The gimmick starts with an assumption that the government would continue its peak levels of war spending indefinitely and would also increase those amounts for inflation in the future. But no one ever intended this to happen: Even the Bush Administration had begun planning a reduction in troop levels.
Nevertheless, from President Obama’s first budget, he has used the inflated projections for overseas contingency operations (OCO) as a budget benchmark so he could claim large savings by proposing to spend less than those amounts, and he has continued the practice right up through his recent debt reduction proposal.
The President tried to count war spending reductions as part of his debt-reduction plan unveiled last fall; again Heritage cried foul. It was, and remains, a wonder how the President could use those illusory savings for deficit reduction and domestic spending at the same time.
Giving credence to the war savings budget gimmick would give cover for lawmakers to send more taxpayer money flowing out of Washington.