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Nancy  Madsen
By Nancy Madsen August 3, 2014

Ed Gillespie says White House is cutting Navy to pay for Obamacare

The Navy is ailing, and Obamacare is to blame, says Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.

"This administration is slashing the Navy to pay for more Obamacare," he said during a recent debate with Democratic incumbent Mark Warner. "There’s no two ways about it when looking at their budget."

It wasn’t the first time Gillespie has made this claim on the campaign trail in Virginia, home to the world’s largest Naval base. We decided to see if he’s right.

The Navy Budget

The final Navy allocation requested by George W. Bush’s administration, for fiscal 2009, was $149.3 billion. Congress appropriated $148.1 billion.

Here are the amounts President Barack Obama has requested for the Navy:

  • 2010 -- $156.4 billion
  • 2011 -- $160.6 billion
  • 2012 -- $161.4 billion
  • 2013 -- $157.3 billion
  • 2014 -- $155.8 billion
  • 2015 -- $148 billion.

And here are the amounts Congress appropriated for the Navy:

  • 2010 -- $156.1 billion
  • 2011 -- $156.1 billion
  • 2012 -- $158.3 billion
  • 2013 -- $161.6 billion
  • 2014 -- $149.8 billion.

You may notice that the first list goes one year into the future while the second list doesn’t. That’s because Obama has made his Navy budget request for 2015, but Congress hasn’t agreed on the appropriation.

There are two important trends in these lists. First, over the course of Obama’s  administration, a chart of his Navy budget requests would look like a hill, sloping up in the early years and then dropping below its starting point. A chart for the congressional allocations would have the same shape. The second trend is that in four of the first five years of the administration, Congress appropriated less Navy money than Obama requested.

The trends stem from a partisan showdown over the federal debt in 2011 that resulted in an unhappy compromise. The fight arose over raising the nation’s debt limit so the government could continue to pay its obligations, something Congress had routinely done in the past. This time, however, Republicans insisted on spending cuts in return for raising the limit. Democrats initially refused.

The standoff was broken that August by passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which eventually triggered $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts over 10 years -- called sequestration -- in exchange for raising the borrowing limit. Half the cuts will be made in domestic programs, which Democrats sought to protect, and half will come in defense spending -- including the Navy -- that Republicans wanted to shield.

The cuts began to take effect on March 1, 2013.

Is Obamacare tied to Navy cuts?

The Navy and Obamacare -- also known as the Affordable Care Act -- are funded under different budget rules.

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The Navy falls under discretionary spending, which accounts for about 40 percent of all federal outlays. These are programs that receive annual appropriations subject to the whims of Congress and are affected by the sequester. Although defense consumes about half of the discretionary budget, other areas include education, agriculture and housing.

Obamacare was set up to be self-supporting through a series of specially enacted taxes and long-term Medicare savings. It doesn’t rely on an annual appropriation. In other words, the ACA and the Navy are supported by two unconnected funding streams.

So where does Gillespie find the link? His campaign sent us a variety of information but none of it tied the Navy cuts to Obamacare. We received:

  • A 2013 blog entry by Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of Navy operations. He warned that the U.S. fleet could sink to about 255-260 ships in 2020 if sequestration continues. That’s a loss of about 30 ships, or about 10 percent.

  • A 2013 news release from Rep. Randy Forbes, R-4th, announcing he had introduced a bill to remove the Department of Defense from the sequester.

  • Two long-term budget outlooks published by nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office this year, noting there will be costs for expanding health insurance subsidies under Obamacare. The reports, however, did not address ACA revenues. "They looked completely at the spending side," said Josh Gordon, an analyst for the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan organization urging deficit reduction.

For now, insurance provisions under Obamacare are costing less than expected. The CBO estimated in April that the expanded insurance under the act will cost $104 billion less than it originally projected over the next 10 years.  

Experts told us Gillespie’s linkage of Navy cuts to Obamacare is way off base.

"I don’t see any connection between the defense budget and the Affordable Care Act," said Todd Harrison, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think tank focused on defense policies.

Winslow T. Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project for the Project on Government Oversight, called Gillespie’s comment "specious nonsense."

Our ruling

Gillespie says the Obama administration is "slashing the Navy to pay for more Obamacare."

The claim is erroneous for two reasons. First, Congress is complicit in the Navy budget cuts. By failing to agree on a debt-reduction plan, it triggered a self-imposed regimen of automatic cuts to defense and domestic programs.

Second, Obamacare is shielded from those reductions because it’s not subject to annual appropriations from Congress. The ACA is self-funded through a series of specially enacted taxes and health care efficiencies. Its fortunes are not tied to those of Navy.

Gillespie, who has made this statement at least twice, sent us plenty of information, but none of it linked the Navy cuts to Obamacare. We agree with the military expert who called the claim "specious nonsense." But at PolitiFact, we call it Pants on Fire.

Our Sources

YouTube, "Watch Mark Warner, Ed Gillespie meet for first Virginia Senate debate," July 26, 2014.

Email from Paul Logan, Gillespie campaign, July 28, 2014.

Department of the Navy Budget Documents for 2009-2015, accessed July 31, 2014.

Email from Warner Campaign, July 26, 2014.

Blog of CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert, "The Impact of Sequestration (Part II)," Sept. 27, 2013.

Interview and emails with Todd Harrison, senior fellow in defense budget strategies for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, July 30 and 31, 2014.

Congressional Budget Office, "The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024," Feb. 4, 2014.

CBO, "Letter to the Honorable John Boehner providing an estimate for H.R. 6079, the Repeal of Obamacare Act," July 24, 2012.

CBO, "The 2014 Long-Term Budget Outlook," July 15, 2014.

Email from Warner campaign, July 26, 2014.

Defense News, "Senate GOP Hawks Vote to Keep Sequester Cuts," Dec. 19, 2013.

CNN, "Get real, Hagel tells nation in proposing military cuts," Feb. 24, 2014.

CBS News, "Senators meet in effort to avoid fiscal cliff," Oct. 9, 2012.

Warner, "Sen. Warner Receives U.S. Navy Distinguished Public Service Award," March 13, 2013.

Email from Winslow T. Wheeler, director of Straus Military Reform Project for the Project On Government Oversight, July 31, 2014.

Office of Management and Budget, "Discretionary Budget Authority by Agency," 1976-2019," assessed July 31.

Congressional Budget Office, "Updated of the Effects of the Insurance Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act," April 2014.

Interview with Josh Gordon, policy director of The Concord Coalition, Aug. 1, 2014.

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