Zbigniew Mazurak's Blog

A blog dedicated to defense issues

What’s their problem with the Ryan Plan?

Posted by zbigniewmazurak on April 6, 2012


As soon as Paul Ryan unveiled his budget plan, the Path to Prosperity, he was vitriolically attacked not just by the Left but also by the putative right, specifically, by self-proclaimed “conservatives” who are conservative only on fiscal issues and would be happy to see defense gutted (and they’re neutral on social issues).

They include the Club For Growth (which urged Republicans to vote against the Ryan Plan), FreedomWorks, and 10 Republican Congressmen, 2 of whom sit on the House Budget Committee and voted against it, thus helping the Left almost defeat it.

What’s their problem with the Ryan Plan?

They don’t like it because:

  • It saves defense from sequestration; and
  • It doesn’t cut spending deeply and quickly enough.

The Club For Growth insists that full sequestration of defense spending proceed and that it remain completely unchanged. FreedomWorks’ Dean Clancy is more mild in his criticism, saying:

“Now for the bad parts.

Like last year’s Ryan budget, the new version takes Social Security and defense off the spending-cut table. These two programs together equal 40 percent of the budget.”

But that is untrue.

The Ryan Plan does NOT take defense off the spending-cuts table. It leaves the first tier of defense spending cuts ($487 bn) ordered by the Budget Control Act (the 2011 debt ceiling deal) in place. Defense spending would not be taken off the table, merely be saved from sequestration (the second tier of the BCA’s defense cuts).

Lumping defense and the SS program together is ridiculous and it obscures more than it reveals. Defense alone amounts to just 19% of the total federal budget, and the core defense budget amounts to less than 15%. But under sequestration, this 15% portion of the total federal budget (OCO/war spending would be spared from the cuts) would shoulder a full 50% of the total cuts that sequestration would make.

The Ryan Plan would therefore shield defense only from sequestration, not from First Tier BCA cuts.

But fiscal hawks object to even that. They want defense to be subjected to a full sequestration on top of all the budget cuts imposed on defense by the Obama Admin and the Congress during the last 3 years.

Why?

Because they specifically want defense to be cut so deeply and gutted. They categorically oppose a strong defense and the full funding it needs, and they don’t believe that defense is any more important or worthy than other government programs. For them, it’s just another black hole, just another waste of money, and an even easier target to attack than other government programs; hence, they single it out for such disproportionate attacks.

And it doesn’t matter to them that the Ryan Plan would, in lieu of defense spending sequestration, cut other federal spending by an amount 3 times larger than the sequester’s cuts. What they want is specifically the sequestration of defense.

And it also doesn’t matter to them that defense, unlike other government programs, is not only Constitutionally legitimate but also is the #1 Constitutional duty of the federal government (as made clear by the Constitution’s Preamble, its listing of Congress’ Enumerated Powers /more than half of them pertain to military matters/, and by Sec. 4 of its IV Article) and was deemed a statesman’s highest duty by the Founding Fathers.

So they vitriolically attack Paul Ryan and his plan because it saves defense from the sequestration disaster* (while substituting nondefense spending cuts that are 3 times deeper).

Gosh! Saving defense, the #1 Constitutional function of the federal government, from draconian and disproportionate cuts, and thus fulfilling the Constitutional duty to provide for a strong defense, while saving taxpayers 3 times more money than the sequester would save them! What a liberal heresy! Only a Big Government Liberal could come up with something like that!

Oh, wait, providing for a strong defense is an irremovable part of conservative philosophy. Try “Only a Constitutional Conservative could come up with something like that!”

Their second objection is that the Ryan Plan doesn’t cut spending quickly enough. Granted, it doesn’t, by my taste, and its author could’ve done better. But there is no perfect budget plan, the supposed alternatives are not much better, and the Ryan Plan is still a great one that actually cuts spending deeper than you’ve been told.

Per Peter Ferrara:

“even under CBO’s static scoring, the federal deficit in actual nominal dollars would be reduced to $182 billion by 2017, the fifth year of the budget. That compares to $1,327 billion, or $1.327 trillion, today. So in just five years, even under CBO’s static scoring, the deficit is reduced by 86 percent. The deficit is less than 1 percent of GDP by that year, at 0.9 percent, where it stabilizes for 6 years to the end of the 10-year budget window.

Given the sharp income tax rate cuts in Ryan’s budget, with dynamic scoring the budget would probably be balanced by that fifth year, 2017.”

It also pays off the entire debt by 2050 under static scoring, and a lot sooner under dynamic scoring. It also replaces the current tax code with just two income tax brackets, 10% and 25%, while ending the AMT and the death tax. Ferrara explains why Ryan’s methodical approach is the right one:

“You can’t discount these longer term projections as meaningless, for two reasons. First, that is how the crisis is defined, by projecting current debt trends long term. You can’t define the problem as long-term federal debt projections, and then disdain a long-term solution that transforms those long-term projections. Secondly, the solution is careful, long-term, structural entitlement reform that produces enormous changes over the long run. Under those careful Ryan entitlement reforms, no one gets hurt, contrary to the hysterics of the infantile left (…). To discount the long-term effects of those careful structural reforms as too far into the future to take seriously is to deny the possibility and opportunity of such fundamental, structural long-term reforms that are politically viable, to embrace draconian, preemptory, entitlement cuts that would be validly subject to the hysterics of infants.”

While I don’t at all agree that deeper cuts would be draconian, it would be hard to get the Congress to pass them.

So the American people have two paths to choose.

One is to do what the C4G, FreedomWorks, the COGC, and the Paulbots want to do: cut everything deeply, without looking at what you’re cutting, or even worse, cutting defense disproportionately deeply, thus gutting defense and still failing to come up with enough savings to balance the budget.

The other is to do what Chairman Ryan proposes: saving defense from sequestration, funding it adequately, cutting everything else, reforming entitlements and the tax code (to spur economic growth), and thus balancing the budget (under dynamic scoring) within a decade and paying off the entire public debt by 2050.

Which path do you think is better, folks?

Footnote:

*If you don’t believe that sequestration would totally gut defense, listen to Obama’s own Joint Chiefs and his own SECDEF.

For CJCS General Martin Dempsey, sequestration wouldn’t just lead to a hollow force, it’d be THE DEFINITION of a hollow force.

During a hearing before the HASC, USMC Commandant General James Amos said that if sequestration went through and personnel spending were excluded from it, “that would be the recipe for a hollow force.” (at ca. 0:37:00 in the video) Those are his words, not mine.

General Dempsey and General Amos are hardly alone in voicing such an opinion. They’ve been joined by all other Joint Chiefs, as well as Service Vice Chiefs.

During another hearing before the HASC, Marine LTG Mills testified that cuts to the extent that sequestration would require “would break faith with those Marines [who are defending America]“.

The sequester, if it were allowed to go through, would force the DOD to cut every budget item equally by a whopping 23%, and its total core budget also by 23%. It would thus wreck the military, because you can’t buy three-fourths of a ship or of a building. Secretary Panetta says that under sequestration, he would have to, inter alia:

  • Cancel the F-35 program completely without replacement, and thus betray foreign program partners
  • Eliminate the ICBM leg of the nuclear triad completely while cutting the bomber fleet by 2/3 and cancelling the bomber replacement program
  • Delay the SSBN replacement program
  • Cancel all except the most basic upgrades for F-15s and F-16s while cutting the fighter fleet by 35%
  • Cut the USN’s ship fleet to 230 vessels, the smallest size since 1915
  • Forego the deployment of any missile defense system abroad
  • Cut the Army to its smallest size since 1940
  • Cancel virtually all Army modernization programs
  • Cut the Marines down to just 145,000 personnel
  • Cut personnel benefits programs to such depth that it would break faith with them (e.g. massive cuts in DOD health programs)
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