How Ronald Reagan refuted the “you must cut defense spending” myth

These days, we hear that defense spending must be cut deeply to balance the budget and that reversing BCA-mandated defense cuts would increase the deficit. But that’s garbage. The budget can be balanced without any defense cuts, as the balanced budget plans of both the RSC and the Heritage Foundation have proven.


Moreover, this is not the first time liberals are making such false claims. In 1980, as America’s defense spending was at a then-record-low-ebb and the US military was decrepit, people were telling Ronald Reagan that he would have to retain Carter’s defense cuts, or even cut defense further, to balance the budget. But he knew better. He pointed out that there was enough wasteful, fraudulent, and unconstitutional spending in the federal budget to balance it without any defense cuts.


Ronald Reagan’s replies to these questions can serve as useful lessons for Republican candidates for federal office on how to answer similar questions, should they be asked (which they likely will be).


Here’s a transcript of that. At the beginning of the debate, as the second question, he was asked:


“MR. SMITH. Mr. Stone, do you have a followup question for the Governor?


MR. STONE. Yes. Governor, we’ve been hearing that the defense buildup that you would associate yourself with would cost tens of billions of dollars more than is now contemplated. In assuming that the American people are ready to bear this cost, they nevertheless keep asking the following question: How do you reconcile huge increases in military outlays with your promise of substantial tax cuts and of balancing the budget, which in this fiscal year, the one that just ended, ran more than $60 billion in the red?


GOVERNOR REAGAN. Mr. Stone, I have submitted an economic plan that I’ve worked out in concert with a number of fine economists in this country, all of whom approve it, and believe that over a 5-year projection, this plan can permit the extra spending for needed refurbishing of our defensive posture, that it can provide for a balanced budget by 1983, if not earlier, and that we can afford-along with the cuts that I have proposed in Government spending–we can afford the tax cuts I have proposed–and probably, mainly because Mr. Carter’s economic policy has built into the next 5 years, and on beyond that, a tax increase that will be taking $86 billion more next year out of the people’s pockets than was taken this year. And my tax cut does not come close to eliminating that $86 billion increase. I’m only reducing the amount of the increase.


In other words, what I’m talking about is not putting Government back to getting less money than Government’s been getting, but simply cutting the increase in spending.”


At 21:25, he was asked this question:


“MR. SMITH. A followup, Mr. Ellis?


MR. ELLIS. Yes, you have centered on cutting Government spending in what you have just said about your own policies. You have also said that you would increase defense spending. Specifically, where would you cut Government spending if you were to increase defense spending and also cut taxes, so that, presumably, Federal revenues would shrink?


GOVERNOR REAGAN. Well, most people, when they think about cutting Government spending, they think in terms of eliminating necessary programs or wiping out something, some service that Government is supposed to perform. I believe that there is enough extravagance and fat in Government. As a matter of fact, one of the Secretaries of HEW under Mr. Carter testified that he thought there was $7 billion worth of fraud and waste in welfare and in the medical programs associated with it. We’ve had the General Accounting Office estimate that there is probably tens of billions of dollars that is lost in fraud alone, and they have added that waste adds even more to that.


We have a program for a gradual reduction of Government spending based on these theories, and I have a task force now that has been working on where those cuts could be made. I’m confident that it can be done and that it will reduce inflation, because I did it in California. And inflation went down below the national average inCalifornia when we returned money to the people and reduced government spending.”


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