How Republicans’ various budget plans compare on defense

Because defense is the #1 Constitutional duty of the federal government (see here and here), we need to evaluate how the various budget plans proposed by Republican Congressmen and Senators would fund that Constitutional government function; in other words, how they compare on that score.

Chairman Ryan’s plan would fund defense at $544 bn in FY2013, which is fully adequate in my opinion (unlike the Obama Admin’s budget) and would fund all needed defense programs while preventing drastic force structure reductions. However, it does not appear to repeal sequestration fully; it only directs Committees with jurisdiction over mandatory spending programs to find sufficient savings in them to replace the sequester. Over a decade (FY2013-FY2022), the Ryan Plan would, if implemented by these committees, produce budget savings 3.36 times larger than what the sequester would produce. But that would be contingent on the committees complying with the Budget Resolution (which is not a law) and finding the savings. That is not certain. Recall that the Super Committee created by the Budget Control Act of 2011, and composed of 12 Senators and Congressmen, was also supposed to find savings – to the tune of $1.5 trilion over a decade – and yet, it couldn’t. Therefore, under the Ryan plan, the threat of sequestration would be contingent on the mandatory-spending-jurisdiction-committees complying with a nonbinding resolution. Given that mandatory spending is the third rail of American politics, the chances of them complying with that resolution when it is NONBINDING are low.

The Republican Study Committee’s plan would fund defense at the same level ($544 bn in FY2013 and more in later fiscal years), but it would also permanently remove the threat of sequestration. Forever. Furthermore, it would cut nondefense spending far deeper than the Ryan Plan would and would balance the budget by FY2017, thus undermining defense cuts supporters.

The Toomey Plan would also fully fund defense, at a level similar to that proposed by the RSC and by Chairman Ryan, and it would allow for the possibility of GWOT funding through FY2018 (the last US troops are to leave Afghanistan in FY2015). After that, any GWOT funding would have to be matched, dollar for dollar, with spending cuts elsewhere. However, while the Toomey Plan would balance the budget in FY2020, it does not contain any entitlement reforms. That is a problem because entitlement spending already consumes 63% of the entire federal budget and is growing nonstop on autopilot. It will consume 100% of the federal budget if it remains unchanged.

Sen. Rand Paul’s plan, if implemented, would remove the sequester in FY2013 and, although it retains some of the First Tier BCA cuts and limits defense spending to $542 bn in FY2013 and slows down its growth significantly, it would still fund defense sufficiently. The toplines in his budget plan are sufficient. What is worrisome is some of his specific defense spending proposals; for example, he wants many, if not most, of US bases abroad to be closed and the troops stationed there brought home, even though doing so would actually cost a lot more money than it would save. He also wants to significantly reduce the military’s size and personnel numbers, which would be unwise. Contrary to his claims, the military’s size has already been dramatically reduce since the end of the Cold War: the US military has far fewer troops, aircraft, ships, tanks, and ICBMs than it had in 1990 or 1991.

Sen. Rand Paul also proposes to end the Afghan war in FY2014 and to bring all the troops fighting in Afghanistan home, which I agree with. So, the topline figures that he proposes are sufficient in my judgment; it’s some specific defense policy proposals of his that would be unwise.

So, as far as defense issues are concerned, all four of these proposals are good, but I believe the RSC budget is best and Rand Paul’s budget plan is second-best, while the Toomey budget is not clear about whether it would stop sequestration, and the Ryan Plan bets on the mandatory-spending-jurisdiction committees finding the requisite savings.

So, ironically, for us defense conservatives, the Ryan Plan is not the best plan available. The RSC’s budget blueprint is.




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