Obama’s defense strategy says one thing while the defense budget does another

Master Sgt. Ken Hammond/U.S. Air Force

The Pentagon, looking northeast with the Potomac River and Washington Monument in the distance.

Article Highlights

  • Defense cuts in the name of debt reduction are really for increased domestic spending

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  • Procurement only comprises roughly one-fifth of the defense budget but it will cough up almost 42 percent to meet the defense budget cut targets

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  • President Obama’s latest defense budget proposal does not adequately resource the military’s new defense strategy

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President Obama sent an annual budget request to Capitol Hill today that does little to reduce the deficit but dramatically cuts military spending anyway. Even though last year’s debt ceiling deal was supposedly agreed to in order to reduce America’s crushing debt burden, Obama is apparently planning to use half of the cuts in war spending to “help finance a major six-year, 50 percent increase in transportation spending.”

Defense cuts in the name of debt reduction are really for increased domestic spending. This is not a surprise. Last summer, President Obama made his priorities clear: social spending trumps national security. “A lot of the spending cuts that we’re making should be around areas like defense spending as opposed to food stamps,” he told NPR. He went on to say last summer during his Twitter town hall that “the nice thing about the defense budget is it’s so big … that you can make relatively modest changes to defense that end up giving you a lot of head room to fund things like basic research or student loans or things like that.”

Within the defense budget, the administration’s talking points sound good but the numbers just don’t add up. Modernization spending is taking the biggest budget hit despite the urgent need for modernization across the U.S. military. President Obama’s 2013 budget proposes cutting $45 billion from last year’s budget request, with nearly $19 billion coming from procurement alone. This account, which the Pentagon uses to buy everything from IT services to weapons systems, is bearing a disproportionate burden of defense cuts. Procurement only comprises roughly one-fifth of the defense budget but it will cough up almost 42 percent to meet the defense budget cut targets.

President Obama’s latest defense budget proposal does not adequately resource the military’s new defense strategy, making the military’s intended emphasis on the Asia-Pacific a “paper pivot.” The president is proposing to retire massive numbers of ships and aircraft before the end of their service lives at a time when numbers matter because the demand for U.S. presence abroad is not declining.

The president also wants to slash the active-duty Army and Marine Corps by 100,000 soldiers and Marines while leaving the entire Department of Defense civilian workforce of over 750,000 people intact. The president is requesting a fresh round of base closures in the U.S. The falling defense budget will also reduce America’s manufacturing workforce that build ships, vehicles, and aircraft–many of which are small businesses. Finally, the National Guard is taking a big hit in nearly all 50 states even as the Pentagon’s new strategy calls for an increased reliance on these very forces as the active military shrinks.

President Obama’s budget cuts the U.S. military while asking those in uniform to accept more risk in their jobs and providing fewer resources to fulfill their missions. Congress should reject these proposals as going too far for too few and pass a budget resolution that adds additional resources to properly fund military readiness and modernization.

Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow at AEI.

 

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