The Democrats and their propagandists, such as Soros-funded “Center for American Progress” hacks, and their media allies like CNN, falsely allege that Mitt Romney plans to increase base defense spending by $2 trillion over the next decade (FY2013-FY2022) compared to Obama’s plans. They allege that this would be the result of increasing the base defense budget to a full 4% of GDP (which Romney pledges to do).
Amazingly, the non-liberal media, such as the Washington Times, have repeated that lie robotically without any critical look.
But it’s a blatant lie, and I’ll show you why.
First, some simple math. Adding $2 trillion to defense over the next decade means adding $200 bn every year on average. If, in one year, the increase is smaller than the $200 bn average, increases in later years would have to be higher.
Spending $8.3 trillion on defense over the next decade would mean spending $830 bn every year, on average, on defense.
Mitt Romney does not propose anything even close to that. His proposals are far more modest, and very modest by historical standards.
Let’s start with the size of today’s (FY2012) base defense budget. It amounts to $531 bn, i.e. 3.47% of America’s GDP (which is $15.29 trillion) and less than 15% of the total federal budget. Obama’s proposed FY2013 base defense budget amounts to $525 bn, i.e. 3.43% of GDP.
(The Overseas Contingency Operations budget, i.e. the war costs, are planned to be $88.5 bn in FY2013, FY2014, and FY2015 before the US withdraws from Afghanistan, but they’re separate from the base defense budget; in any case, Mitt Romney’s pledge, and his detractors’ false claims, pertain to the base defense budget, so we’ll look only at that one for the purposes of this analysis.)
A 3.47% of GDP base defense budget means that, excluding the late 1990s, America is now devoting less (as a percentage of GDP) of its own wealth to its national defense than at any time since FY1941.
Mitt Romney’s plans
As stated above, Gov. Romney proposes to raise the base defense budget to 4% of GDP.* As stated above, America’s GDP is currently $15.29 trillion, so 4% of it would amount to $611.6 bn, or just $86.6 above what Obama plans for FY2013.
How the base defense budget would grow thereafter would be determined by how fast the US economy would grow, since Gov. Romney pledges to peg the defense budget to the economy’s size. If the economy doesn’t grow, neither will the defense budget; if it grows slowly, so will the defense budget.
Even if it grows at a fast pace like 4% per year, the defense budget would, as a simple mathematical consequence, also grow only by 4% per year under Romney’s plan.
Let’s assume, for example, that next year, the economy grows by 4%, from $15.29 trillion to $15.9016 trillion. Assuming even such luck with economic growth (i.e. a rapid recovery), the base defense budget, as a 4% fraction of GDP, would still amount only to $636.064 bn in FY2014. But that’s totally dependent on the economy growing rapidly. Even then, under such optimistic economic growth assumptions, the FY2014 base defense budget would still be only $103 bn per year higher than Obama’s plan for FY2014 (which is 533.6 bn, see Figure 1-3 on page 1-3 of this DOD document).
And remember, they claimed Romney wants to increase base defense spending by $200 bn on average! Which only shows how badly wrong they are.
But let’s assume optimistically that within the next five years, by 2017, the economy grows to $17 trillion (a highly unlikely scenario). Even if that happens, that would still leave defense spending, as a 4% of GDP item, at $680 bn in FY2017 or FY2018. By comparison, Obama plans to spend $567.3 bn in FY2017 on defense. (See this DOD document, page 1-3, Figure 1-3.) The difference is $113 bn, far short of the $200 bn difference the Obama camp and its liberal allies claim.
All of these figures – even those based on very optimistic assumptions about future US economic growth – are also far short of the $830 bn annual average that Romney would have to spend if he were to spend $8.3 trillion on defense on the next decade as his detractors falsely accuse him of wanting.
This means that either they can’t do simple math or they are deliberately lying to distort Mitt Romney’s plans (or both). In any case, such blatant lying out to be a disqualifier for anyone who engages in it.
Constitutional and budgetary process issues
Moreover, by engaging in such attacks on Gov. Romney, they have also shown their utter ignorance of the Constitution and the federal budgetary process of today.
The Constitution grants “the power of the purse” exclusively to the Congress, not the President. It is the Congress, not the President, that sets spending levels (including defense budgets). It is the Congress who decides how much money will be spent, and on what exactly.
To see 4% of GDP (let alone 830 bn per year) devoted to defense, the Romney Administration would have to ask the Congress to appropriate that money and convince it that it’s necessary (good luck convincing the Congress to do that in a time of budgetary constraints). Top Romney Administration defense officials would have to testify in front of no less than six separate Congressional committees and convince all of them that America needs to devote this or that amount to defense.
Unfortunately, Congress is unlikely to spend a full 4% of GDP, let alone 830 bn per year, on defense. It may very well avert sequestration (which Republicans and Democrats agree is a disastrous and dumb idea), and a Republican-controlled Congress might pass a defense budget slightly larger than the one proposed Obama. But that’s the best-case scenario the DOD can hope for. Congress is highly unlikely to appropriate anything more than that.
Such attacks on Romney’s proposals also reveal these authors’ ignorance of the federal budgetary process. As Bruce Bartlett has demonstrated in the Forbes magazine, today, a president’s budget request is almost irrelevant. Congress passes budgets it, not the President, deems wise. It’s a far cry from the pre-1974 era, when the President’s budget proposal was the starting point for any discussion, because, among other reasons, it was the only document where complete numbers for the entire federal government could be found. Nowadays, the president’s budget proposal is just one among many.
The proposal that stands the highest chance of passing both houses of Congress is Sen. Toomey’s budget plan, which, for the entire next decade, would set base defense budget levels at the caps instituted by the First Tier of the Budget Control Act, while OCO spending would have to be phased out by no later than FY2018.
Mitt Romney’s detractors also try to portray him as a hypocrite because he has picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, and Ryan voted for the Budget Control Act and proposes to increase defense spending over Obama’s plans only by a modest amount.
But Romney also proposes only a modest defense budget increase, and unlike Ryan, Gov. Romney opposed the Budget Control Act from the very beginning, in large part BECAUSE of its defense cuts provisions. Moreover, Romney has said that Republicans made a big blunder by agreeing to this bill and to its defense cuts provisions.
Regarding Ryan’s proposal to cut foreign aid, it’s the right proposal. Foreign countries – or at minimum, those which aren’t friendly to America – should no longer milk American taxpayers’ subsidies.
So Mitt Romney’s detractors’ claims are completely false:
- Mitt Romney does not plan to increase defense spending by 2 trillion dollars over the next decade. Not even close.
- Mitt Romney does not plan to spend 8.3 trillion on defense over the next decade. Not even close. It wouldn’t be close even if the US economy suddenly began to grow rapidly.
- Mitt Romney is not hypocritical despite picking Paul Ryan – both gentlemen would like to increase defense funding only to a modest degree, and Romney has said that Congressional Republicans (including Ryan) made a huge error by agreeing to the BCA and its defense cuts provisions.