Rebuttal of Mark Thompson’s newest lies about sequestration

The utterly discredited Washington political hack Mark Thompson (whose ridiculous claims have already been debunked here and on his own blog a few times) has opened himself to ridicule yet again by making new, ignorant, false claims about defense spending (in his blogpost, “A Chart Is Worth 1,000 Words). And while making them, he has proven again that he can’t even read so much as a simple graph.

Thompson says he browsed Todd Harrison’s PDF “research paper” on the FY2013 defense budget and found one graph which he claims proves that defense spending wouldn’t be cut deeply under sequestration and which, moreover, according to Thompson, supposedly proves that defense spending has been on a constant rise since FY1947. The graph in question does not appear in Harrison’s report itself, however, but i the accompanying series of briefing slides, on page 2 of the PDF file. A similar graph, numbered as Figure 4, is on page 8 of Harrison’s report.

There are two problems with those claims: 1) they’re factually wrong by a huge margin, and 2) they do not exactly reflect what the graph shows, to put it mildly.

While Thompson denies that sequestration would not be a deep cut, it would, in fact, be a very deep reduction of defense spending: from $535 bn this FY to $469 bn  in FY2013, i.e.a a cut of $66 bn (12.336%) in just one FY, virtually overnight. After FY2013, defense spending would grow so slowly that even by FY2022, a decade from now, at the end of what would be “the sequestration decade”, defense would still be at just $493 bn, below $500 bn and well below what it is today (by a $42 bn margin). This is a big cut if you ask me.(See this CBO report on the possible scenarios for defense spending, including sequestration. See Table 1.4 on page 11 of the report.)

Harrison’s graph, for its part, does NOT take sequestration into account. His graph does not project defense spending post-sequestration. Instead, it projects what will happen to defense if sequestration does NOT proceed. Under such scenario, it shows defense spending staying virtually flat in real terms during the next 5 years – and Harrison’s paper says it will stay that way for much longer than that, at least throghout the next decade:

“The Future Year Defense Program (FYDP) included with the budget projects that the base defense budget will remain essentially flat for the next five years, growing at an annual rate of just 0.1 percent above inflation.”

In other words, Harrison’s assumption (reflected in his graph) that defense spending will stay flat during the next 5 years is predicated on sequestration NOT happening at all.

And since Thompson seems to like graphs, despite not being able to read them, here’s a graph from the CBO report:

And you know what’s funny about this? Thompson’s blog was the place where I first saw that graph and thus became alerted to it. But Thompson can’t read that simple graph either, claiming that it shows that sequestration would not be a deep defense spending cut. In fact, the title of that post was “What Defense Spending Cuts?” Yet, despite this graph (and the CBO report from which it was taken) demonstrating that sequestration would represent deep defense budget cuts, Thompson refused (and still refuses) to acknowledge this fact.

And what of Thompson’s claim that defense spending has been “on a constant rise since 1947?” It’s also a lie. The graph from Harrison’s report demonstrates (as do other graphs on the subject) that defense spending – measured both in raw dollar numbers and as a percentage of GDP – has seen big cuts and hikes in the last 65 years. It was cut in the post-FY1947 years, significantly increased when the Korean War broke out in 1950, deeply cut after the Korean War, increased again in response to the Sputnik and the growing unrest (to say it mildly) in Vietnam, cut deeply again starting in FY1969 (in the middle of a war) and throughout the 1970s, increased significantly again by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, cut again after the Cold War, and increased modestly by the Bush Administration. In short, it has seen big ups and downs; big cuts followed by big increases; a rollercoaster ride. This fact is a far cry from Thompson’s claim that defense spending has been “on a constant rise since 1947.” In fact, elsewhere in his blogpost, Thompson acknowledges that defense spending has, during the last 65 years, seen big up-and-down changes. So he’s contradicting himself.

Thompson also falsely claims that the base defense budget – to say nothing of OCO supplementals – is at its highest since WW2, but this is not true. In fact, the current base defense budget ($535 bn) is much lower than those for FY1987 ($589.3 bn) or FY1989 ($554.28 bn).

Furthermore, Thompson has selectively chosen the graph from Harrison’s report which purports to depict defense spending evolution in absolute numbers, which is only a selective, partial reproduction of the big picture. It tells us nothing about whether America can (and could, in the past) afford these defense budgets or not. Only measuring defense spending as a percentage of GDP can tell us the answer to that question and thus give us a complete picture. Here’s a graph showing this.

Defense spending as a percentage of GDP from FY1940 to FY2011.

As you can see, base defense spending now stands at only 3.47% of GDP and is thus the lowest since FY1940 if you exclude the late 1990s. Cutting defense through sequestration would bring it down to 2.4% of GDP, as demonstrated by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Indeed, in his own CSBA report, Todd Harrison, whom Thompson likes to quote selectively, admits that:

“Together, these three metrics—national defense spending in inflation adjusted dollars, as a percentage of GDP, and as a percentage of total federal spending—indicate that defense spending is at a high level by historical standards but is affordable given the size of the U.S. economy and is consistent with modern-day norms as a portion of overall federal spending.”

Thus, yet more of Thompson’s lies have been thoroughly debunked. Does anyone take that guy seriously?


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