In the first presidential debate, President Obama criticized Mitt Romney’s proposed defense budget plan as “$2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn’t asked for.” Two parts of this statement require clarification and context.
First, the President failed to mention that this $2 trillion increase would take place over a 10-year period, not immediately. Romney’s plan, based on raising defense expenditures to 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), is $2 trillion higher because the Obama fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget reduces defense spending significantly over that same 10-year period.
The President intends to reduce defense spending by roughly half-a-trillion dollars from FY 2013 to FY 2022. Over that same period, a budget plan that would incrementally increase spending to reach 4 percent of GDP would be roughly $2 trillion more than the President’s budget. Rather than recklessly spending on one portion of the federal budget, spending 4 percent of GDP on defense responsibly invests in preserving national security into the future.
The second part of President Obama’s quote also requires context. Claiming that the military didn’t ask for a $2 trillion increase in funding is, in literal terms, a true statement. While the armed services pledge to perform their duties with the budget they are given, there are numerous ways they require additional funding.
The Air Force is flying geriatric planes, including a middle-aged bomber fleet and fighter jets that have spanned generations of pilots. The Navy’s fleet is constantly suffering mechanical and training breakdowns that stop them from executing missions. Soldiers have even had to strap body armor to SUVs because they couldn’t afford properly fortified vehicles in combat. The military faced these problems even before the President decided to dramatically reduce the defense budget.
Another way to look at what the military “has asked for” is by looking at the laundry list of terminations and delays the FY 2013 Obama budget has planned. The budget eliminates 13 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft from FY 2013 and 179 of the fighters over the next five years. The F-35 is set to replace a broad array of the aforementioned geriatric fighters and represents the future of U.S. air dominance.
The President’s budget also terminates the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned surveillance aircraft, which was intended to replace the aging U-2 fleet. The replacement for the aging Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine is also being delayed under Obama’s defense plan, which will create a capability gap in the most survivable leg of the nuclear triad. Military officials made these programs priorities because each is critical to national security objectives; they are not merely items on a wish list.
Amid the demand to “put everything on the table” to reduce spending, the Obama Administration has failed to confront the largest debt driver: entitlement spending. Defense spending has already accounted for half of debt reduction efforts despite constituting only a fifth of total government spending. Without addressing the government’s true spending problems, defense cuts will accomplish nothing other than diminishing military readiness and risking America’s status as a global leader.
The President should spend less time criticizing alternative budget proposals and focus more on his constitutional responsibility as commander in chief to provide for the common defense. He and Congress should work together to overturn debilitating defense cuts so the military can continue to protect America.