Says Romney wants to add $2 trillion to the defense budget that the military hasn’t asked for.
Barack Obama on Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012 in a presidential debate in Denver
Barack Obama says Mitt Romney would spend $2 trillion that the military hasn't asked for
With the country facing tough choices on spending and taxes, the defense budget, the largest single area of discretionary spending, plays a special role. In the first of three debates, President Barack Obama tried to pressure Mitt Romney on his defense plans, but the Massachusetts governor did not allow himself to be drawn in.
Obama made at least four references to Romney’s goal to greatly ramp up military spending. Each time, he did it in the context of tax policy.
"Gov. Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut," Obama said. "On top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts -- that's another trillion dollars -- and $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for."
Romney was happy to rebut the president’s claim about a $5 trillion tax cut but on the military, he said relatively little and he never challenged the president’s number.
"We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means a military second to none.," Romney said. "I do not believe in cutting our military. I believe in maintaining the strength of America's military."
With both candidates seeking to rein in deficit spending, we thought we should examine whether the governor does want to add $2 trillion in defense spending.
Romney lays out his national security policy on his website. There, he warns that restoring the military "will not be a cost-free process," and says he will "begin by reversing Obama-era defense cuts ... with the goal of setting core defense spending — meaning funds devoted to the fundamental military components of personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement, and research and development — at a floor of 4 percent of GDP."
What’s 4 percent worth?
The Pentagon’s budget is expected to run in the range of 3.2 to 3.5 percent of GDP in the next fiscal year. According to the Center for a New American Security, a group with ties to both Republican and Democratic administrations, even a gradual ramp up to 4 percent would increase defense spending by $2.1 trillion over the next ten years, as reported by CNN.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan group focused on deficit reduction, uses that number too, as do other budget think tanks. Romney seems to accept it, so as far as the $2 trillion figure goes, it seems reasonably accurate.
Does Romney mean it
The Romney campaign has an interesting response to questions about proposing this increase at a time when the government has a hard time paying its bills. The staff emphasize that it might take some time to get to the 4 percent mark.
While the campaign website describes the goal as "a floor", campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul called it "a target" in an email to a Boston Globe reporter. The first priority, Saul wrote, is to reverse "Obama-era defense cuts."
In the same article, one Romney adviser, Mackenzie Eaglen with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said, "That’s not a hard number and anybody would be crazy to suggest it is. It would have to be a very slow ramp-up and they would be hard-pressed to even achieve a 4 percent base budget by the end of the first term.’’
This suggests there is some flexibility on Romney’s part, although the candidate himself has not expressed that.
What the Pentagon is asking for
The president’s budget calls for $487 billion in defense savings between now and 2021. Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, have both spoken up for the plan, as have the heads of all five branches of the military.
"We are developing today the Joint Force the Nation will need in 2020," Dempsey told the Senate budget committee. "We will be a military that is able to do more than one thing at a time—to win any conflict, anywhere."
Panetta acknowledged that the budget comes with risks but he said the department’s plan was based on looking first at the threats the nation might face.
"The department would need to make a strategic shift regardless of the nation's fiscal situation.," Panetta told the budget committee. "We are at that point in history. That's the reality of the world we live in."
Administration critics say the reality was just the reverse. A report from the conservative Heritage Foundation said "the administration set a goal of slashing the defense budget, and then crafted a strategy justifying such draconian cuts."
The president is the commander-in-chief. Panetta works for Obama and the military answers to him. To the analysts at the Heritage Foundation, the chain of command says it all. But in the past, when military commanders have disagreed with presidents, they have found ways to get their complaints to the public.
Nora Bensahel, deputy director of studies at the Center for New American Security, said she believes the president put a great deal of time into discussions with the military and by and large, the commanders support the plan.
"It’s hard to see daylight between the military and the White House on this," Bensahel said.
Broadly speaking, it is always possible that the service chiefs would disagree over funding of individual programs but that is within the overall budget limits.
The president said Romney planned to increase defense spending by $2 trillion and that was money the military hadn’t asked for.
Independent analysts confirm that number, and Romney did not deny it.
Military leaders have testified in support of the president’s spending plan, and we found no evidence of disagreement behind the scenes.
We rate the statement True.