Romney defense spending proposal a return to normal

Article Highlights

  • With modest #economic growth, the United States can afford to spend what’s needed on its military:

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  • #Obama’s principal “national security imperative” is “deficit reduction through a lower level of defense spending.”

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  • The Romney 4% Pentagon #budget is no “spike”; it’s more like a return to normal:

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Remembering that Romney has long promised to raise core military spending to 4 percent of gross domestic product, CNNMoney set out to run the numbers. Or, more precisely, they got Travis Sharp of the Center for a New American Security, the think tank founded by Kurt Campbell, current Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, and Michele Flournoy, until recently the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, to run the numbers. Using Pentagon budget projections–which reduce defense spending from today’s 3.5 percent of GDP to 2.5 percent of GDP in 2022–and the Congressional Budget Office’s projections of economic growth--the CBO says the American economy will expand from about $16 trillion to nearly $25 trillion per year--Sharp proves the obvious, but undeniably true, facts.

As CNNMoney puts it: “The additional spending really piles up in future years.”

To the CNNMoney headline writers, it adds up to a $2.1 trillion “spike” in defense budgets. In fact, as Sharp shows, if Romney immediately fulfilled his 4 percent pledge upon taking office, the 10-year difference with Obama plans would be $2.3 trillion.

But, alas, Sharp’s numbers disprove the CNNMoney spin and make two things clear. The first is that, even with modest economic growth, the United States can afford to spend what’s needed on its military; 4 percent of a $25 trillion economy is a lot of money. Indeed, there’s no reason we couldn’t afford more: The 50-year Cold War average for defense spending–also an era of unprecedented American prosperity–was 6.3 percent of GDP.

Sharp’s numbers also make plain Obama’s plan for American military decline. As the president proclaimed in his January defense guidance, he has walked away from the traditional “two-war” standard of military strength, the measure of U.S. capability throughout the 20th century. Indeed, his principal “national security imperative” is “deficit reduction through a lower level of defense spending.” This allows every other department of the Obama administration to advance its imperative: increase the deficit through higher levels of spending.

The Romney 4 percent Pentagon budget is no “spike”; it’s more like a return to normal, even very constrained military spending given the global mission of America’s armed forces. It’s Obama’s levels of spending that are abnormal, digging a deep hole that even now will take a decade of reinvestment to repair. That’s what is really “piling up.”

Of course, things could be worse. Obama could continue to insist on pulling the sequestration trigger that would chop another $500 billion-plus from military budgets.

Thomas Donnelly is a resident fellow at AEI.

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