Rebuttal of Julie Borowski’s blatant lies

The pseudoconservative Townhall website yesterday published a ridiculous litany of blatant lies by biased libertarian pacifist Julie Borowski (who says she’s “anti-war” and gets her information from Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty). Borowski demands that Republicans agree to “dramatic” defense cuts on top of what they’ve already agreed to.

Borowski begins with this false premise:

“The only way out is through dramatically slashing spending across the board—no exceptions.”

But that’s false. As Congressman Ryan’s, the Republican Study Committee’s, Sen. Toomey’s, and Sen. Lee’s budget plans all prove, one does NOT have to cut defense spending deeply in order to balance the budget. Excepting the Ryan Plan, these blueprints would all balance the books within 8 years without significant defense cuts beyond those already agreed to. So no, “dramatically slashing” defense spending is not necessary at all. Borowski is giving people a false choice.

Moreover, cutting the budget deeply across the board without looking at what you’re cutting is the dumbest way to budget, and it won’t solve America’s fiscal woes. A truly prudent budgeter sets priorities, funds them fully (even during financial crises), and cuts back on all nonessentials.

Under the Constitution, defense is to be the government’s #1 priority and is its highest Constitutional duty. Thus, if the Constitution is to be followed, defense funding has to be prioritized.

Moreover, deeply cutting defense spending beyond the cuts already agreed to would gut the military and jeopardize national security. That’s not scaremongering, that is a fact. Deep defense budget cuts would have to mean deep cuts in the military’s size, modernization, personnel, training, and modernizationall of which would severely weaken it and make it unable to defend America and deter its enemies. Those who claim otherwise either live in a fantasy land or are deliberately lying to lull other people into a false sense of security.

Throughout the article, but especially on its first page, Borowski falsely claims that defense has been Republicans’ “sacred cow”; that “Republicans need to stop protecting Pentagon spending at all costs”; that “too many Republicans are afraid to cut the Pentagon budget for fear of being perceived as “weak on defense.”; and that “Republicans do not deserve to be taken seriously when they talk about tackling the debt crisis unless they are willing to cut “sacred cows.””

But those are blatant (and oft-repeated) lies. Defense spending has NEVER been Republicans’ “sacred cow”. Republicans have already agreed to deep defense cuts.  In fact, in the last 3 years alone (not to mention the last 50 years), Republicans have repeatedly agreed to cut defense spending significantly.

In 2009 and 2010, Republicans meekly agreed to kill over 50 crucial weapon programs, including the F-22, the Airborne Laser, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, the Multiple Kill Vehicle, the CSAR and AF Silo helicopter replacements, the AC-X gunship, the Zumwalt class, and many others. In December 2010, 13 Republicans wrongly agreed to vote for the New START arms reduction treaty, another big defense cut. That misbegotten treaty obligates the US to unilaterally cut its nuclear arsenal while Russia is allowed to grow its own.

In 2011, Republicans voted to approve and implement Secretary Gates’ $178 bn Efficiencies Initiative.

And in August 2011, Republicans meekly agreed to Obama’s demand to include deep defense cuts in the debt ceiling deal, then voted for that bad deal. It includes $487 bn in first tier defense cuts and $550 bn as a sequester, a total of over $1 trillion in cuts.

Any claim that defense spending has been Republicans’ “sacred cow” or that they have protected it from scrutiny is false.

Furthermore, the DOD is so far the ONLY federal agency which has had to make ANY real budget cuts and which has contributed ANYTHING meaningful to deficit reduction. Since 2009 alone, it has contributed $920 bn in deficit reduction efforts. No other federal agency comes even close.

But Borowski doesn’t state merely THAT blatant lie; she even falsely claims that “spending by the largest and most expensive department in the federal government has been isolated from serious scrutiny.”

But the DOD isn’t the largest or most expensive federal department – not even close. The Department of Health and Human Services is. Its FY2012 budget is $892 bn. The DOD’s FY2012 budget is $645 bn.

And the defense budget has never been isolated from serious scrutiny. Aside from the above-mentioned repeated defense cuts of the last 3 years, including the $487 bn cut and the sequester, DOD leaders are under the supervision of, and have to testify and be grilled by, six separate Congressional committees and have to produce hundreds of reports every year. And those who have actually watched such hearings know that the questions are seldom softball ones.

Defense spending has never been isolated from “serious scrutiny” – unless one’s definition of scrutiny is “deep, blind budget cuts.”

But for sane people, there is a HUGE difference between serious scrutiny and deep budget cuts. Borowski clearly can’t distinguish the two.

Borowski also falsely claims that:

“The Pentagon still has a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy when it comes to its spending.”

Again, that’s a blatant lie. The DOD tells the public every year how much it spent in previous year and on what – and how much it plans to spend in future years. Borowski specifically refers to audits and the DOD’s inability to pass one. But the DOD is – contrary to her false claims (borrowed from ultraliberal Congressman Peter DeFazio) – well on its way to being auditible by 2017, as promised – the Army and Navy Departments can even beat that deadline by one year. And contrary to her lie, DOD’s current auditibility problems have nothing to do with how fast it spends money, but with unreliable financial systems.

Borowski also falsely claims:

“a large chunk of the Pentagon budget has absolutely nothing to do with defending the United States. Like all other federal government department budgets, the Pentagon budget is filled with wasteful programs and corporate welfare.”

That’s another blatant lie. The vast majority of the defense budget has EVERYTHING to do with defending the US, because its vast majority pays for:

  • the troops’ salaries, benefits, healthcare programs, retirement, and family care programs (the second largest part of the defense budget);
  • training, operations, and the maintenance of existing bases and equipment (this is the largest part of the budget, at 200 bn per yer);
  • the development and acquisition of new equipment (which is urgently needed after the 23-year-long procurement holiday since 1989, as Reagan-era weapons wear out);
  • fighting the Afghan war against Al-Qaeda and the Taleban;
  • administering the department.

Don’t take my word for it. Look here and see what the defense budget pays for.

While there are a few wasteful programs and expenditures and a few non-defense-related programs in the defense budget, they constitute only a tiny minority of it.

But I guess Borowski’s definition of “wasteful programs and corporate welfare” includes many crucial weapon programs needed to replace obsolete equipment from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s and to fill capability gaps such as long-range conventional strike. Cancelling these programs would be disastrous for the military and for national security. As then-Secretary Gates rightly said in May 2011:

“When it comes to our military modernization accounts, the proverbial “low hanging fruit” – those weapons and other programs considered most questionable – have not only been plucked, they have been stomped on and crushed.  What remains are much-needed capabilities – relating to air superiority and mobility, long-range strike, nuclear deterrence, maritime access, space and cyber warfare, ground forces, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – that our nation’s civilian and military leadership deem absolutely critical.”

Borowski also falsely claims that the defense budget is heavily influenced by lobbyists:

“It is absurd to believe that a budget passed by Congress is not susceptible to unnecessary spending and pet projects.

To believe otherwise is to deny that many politicians are easily swayed by lobbyists. Defense lobbyists spend a lot of time on Capitol Hill at cocktail parties rubbing shoulders with politicians and urging them to put their special project in the Department of Defense budget. Defense contractors Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Raytheon spent a combined $33.4 million on lobbying in Washington last year, according to the Washington Post.”

But $33.4 mn (especially when it takes THREE defense companies to muster this meagre amount of money) is peanuts compared to nondefense lobbies spend. Borowski’s attempt to paint the defense budget as a giveaway to defense contractors is ridiculous. 

The OpenSecrets website has a list of the country’s 100 biggest political donors, by total sum of donations made from 1989 to 2012. No defense company makes it even to the top 30 (or the top 32), let alone the top 10!

Lockheed Martin, the country’s largest defense contractor, is barely 33rd, at $22,398,020 – not exactly George Soros money. General Electric is 35th at $21,947,727. Other defense contractors are even further down the list: Boeing is 51st, with total political contributions at barely $17,884,942. Northrop Grumman is 58th, at $15,598,484. General Dynamics is 70th, at $13,894,518.

The 10 top contributors are: ActBlue (a pro-Democrat group) at $69,829,402; the American Fdn of State, County, and Municipal Employees at $61,440,473; AT&T at $49,435,290; the National Association of Realtors at $44,032,938; the NEA at $43,613,263; the SEIU at $41,809,666; Goldman Sachs at $39,830,663; the “American Association for Justice” at $36,480,728; the “Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers” at $35,994,170; and the American Federation of Teachers at $34,698,466.

Compared to these figures, the defense industry contributions’ are meagre. ActBlue, a pro-Democrat group, contributed almost as much to politicians as the top 4 defense contractors combined.

Furthermore, the following graph proves that the defense industry is one of the smallest donors to politicians and political groups, donating only small amounts of money, and far less than almost every other industry in the country. Unions are by far the biggest donor group.

But the biggest evidence of defense contractors’ tiny stick is their total inability to prevent weapon program closures and other defense cuts. They failed to prevent 50 crucial weapon programs from being killed in 2009 and 2010. They failed to prevent the ratification of New START. They failed to prevent the closure of further weapon programs by Sec. Gates in January 2011. They failed to prevent the inclusion of defense cuts in, or the passage of, the Budget Control Act. They failed to prevent sequestration from being triggered by the Super Committee. They have failed so far to induce the Congress to compromise and agree on a deal that would avert sequestration. As a result, sequestration is now on track to kick in less than 4 months from now, unless the Congress averts it.

Borowski falsely claims that

“President Dwight Eisenhower famously spoke out about the growing fusion between defense contractors and legislators in his 1961 farewell speech. He warned us that the weight of this combination could endanger our liberties and democratic processes. We didn’t heed his warnings and we are now facing the consequences.”

Another lie. No liberties of the American people have been endangered by the DOD or the defense industry, nor have “democratic processes” (America isn’t a democracy, BTW).

Borowski then lies that

“The U.S. unquestionably spends more on military than any other country in the world at $739.3 billionin 2011. That’s nearly half of all military spending on Earth. U.S. military spending has doubled over the past decade when adjusted for inflation. Believe it or not, the U.S. spends at least six times more than the next largest spender and more than the next ten nations combined.”

Those are blatant lies. The US has never had a $739 bn defense budget. Not in FY2011. Not ever. The FY2011 budget was $688 bn; this year’s budget is $645 bn; and next year, even without sequestration, it will shrink to $611 bn – in real terms. And no, the US is not responsible for “nearly half of all military spending on Earth”; only 41%, as SIPRI figures show – and that’s only if you accept SIPRI’s understated figures for Russia and China. (The IISS and Brookings peg the number at 46%, well short of half again.)

US military spending has NOT doubled over the past decade when adjusted for inflation. In FY2001, it was $291.1 bn in CY2000 dollars, i.e. $390 bn in today’s money. Today, it equals $645 bn (including war costs and DOE nuclear weapon programs), representing only 65% growth – “only” 65% if you note that it took place over a decade. That’s not even close to doubling. Like her other lies, this claim by Borowski isn’t even close to being true.

Nor is her claim that the US spends 6 times more than the second biggest military spender (China). In fact, China’s military budget is $141 bn acording to SIPRI, or $160 bn to $250 bn according to the DOD.

Even using SIPRI’s understated figure, for the DOD budget to be 6 times larger than China’s, it would have to be 6 x $141 bn = $846 bn. Of course, the real DOD budget isn’t even close to that; it’s at $645 bn this year. Hell, even Borowski’s totally false figure of $739 bn isn’t close to that!

And remember: SIPRI woefully understates China’s military spending while overstating America’s.

Borowski also lies that:

“Many politicians refuse to accept that throwing more taxpayer dollars at the Pentagon won’t necessarily make us safer.”

But no one is claiming that it will; what Republican politicians, as well as many independent analysts, including myself, are pointing out is that deeply CUTTING defense spending will make America dramatically less safe, because there won’t be nearly enough funding for the troops, their training, operations, the maintenance of existing equipment and bases, or the development and purchases of new equipment. Borowski is making a straw-man argument.

Borowski also lies that:

“Some Republicans are outraged that President Obama is “cutting” the military budget. But don’t be fooled into thinking that Obama is fiscally responsible.

The reality is Obama isn’t cutting a dime out of the military budget. He is only cutting projectedspending, not actual spending. Under Obama’s plan, military spending will still substantially increase over the next decade, just at a slightly slower rate than previously anticipated.

Only in Washington is a spending increase considered a “cut.””

Those are also blatant lies. Already under the first tier of the BCA, base defense spending will be cut IN REAL TERMS in FY2013 and over the next 5 years (by $10 bn in real terms in FY2013 alone, with zero growth for the next 5 years). Under sequestration, defense spending will be cut much deeper, again IN REAL TERMS, by $56 bn, down to $469 bn in FY2013. After that, it will stay below $500 bn for over a decade, and by FY2022 will still be way below today’s level of $535 bn, at a paltry $493 bn in FY2022. So under sequestration – which was Obama’s idea – defense spending will not increase at all and will be deeply cut. (The illustrated version from the CBO is below.)

Meanwhile, war spending is being cut every year and will continue to shrink and eventually zero out later this decade.

Only in libertarians’ alternate universe is a deep real cut in spending considered a mere cut in the growth of spending.

Borowski also falsely claims that

“Interestingly enough, President Obama beats President George W. Bush when it comes to military spending. Military spending, which averaged 3.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product under Bush, has increased to 4.9 percent under Obama.”

That’s false. Obama has never increased it to 4.9%; it’s currently at 4.22% of America’s GDP (which is $15.29 trillion); the base defense budget, $535 bn, equals 3.47% of GDP. Both figures represent the lowest share of GDP devoted to defense since FY1948 if the late 1990s and early 2000s are excluded.

Under both presidents, base defense spending has stayed below 4% of GDP, with war costs slightly increasing this figure to just slightly above 4% (4.22% this year).

In conclusion, Borowski’s claims are all blatant lies. Defense spending has NEVER been Republicans’ sacred cow; it has already contributed $920 bn to deficit reduction while no other agency has contributed ANYTHING; it is now slated for deep real-term cuts, up to $1 trillion per decade if sequestration proceeds; and such deep cuts would inevitably severely weaken the military, because contrary to Borowski’s lie, the vast majority of its budget has everything to do with defending America.

No, America cannot afford to deeply cut its defense budget without sacrificing national security. And contrary to Borowski’s lie, deep defense cuts are not necessary to balance the federal budget.

POSTSCRIPT: If you read her entire screed, you’ll notice that she insists on calling the defense budget “the Pentagon budget”, rather than what it is – defense spending. But I guess she does so deliberately – to paint it as a mere giveaway to defense contractors and the Big Bad Pentagon, instead of what it is – the budget which pays for American troops’ salaries, healthcare, equipment, and training.


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