Conservatives, Budgets and Defense

March 20, 2012

Today, House Republicans led by Paul Ryan are releasing a budget that aims to prevent the so-called “sequester” cuts from taking effect in 2013. That budget breaks the link between defense and domestic spending that served as the foundation for last year’s bipartisan budget agreement. The Ryan budget — which has been reported not just to exempt defense spending from cuts, but to allow it to increase — also shows a reversal from Republicans, who as recently as last year were demonstrating their seriousness by insisting that defense spending be “on the table” as part of any deal. Finally, it’s not just congressional Republicans who miss the connection between defense spending, domestic strength and deficit reduction. As the Boston Globe reports, Mitt Romney’s budget plans slash taxes and domestic programs while increasing defense spending 61 percent over a decade. A serious plan to avoid sequester will be balanced, keep defense on the table — and consider revenues as well as cuts.

Any serious plan to avoid sequester must be balanced, take defense into account and consider revenues as well as cuts. Our strength at home and abroad cannot be separated. As Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey has said, “[W]e have come to grips fairly effectively, I think, with the interrelationship of the diplomatic, military and economic instruments. And if you’re wondering why this is being — our grand strategy is being renegotiated in terms of outcomes in the face of the nation’s budget crisis, it’s because, truly, we are only as strong as those three pillars — diplomatic, military and economic — can interrelate with each other to achieve a common outcome.”

In the current budget environment, ensuring that balanced strength means taking defense spending into account and getting past conservatives’ ideological opposition to taxes. As Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) said in January, “The sequester…is used to force us to deal with the deficit. And it will. I predict it’s going to succeed… But it will only succeed if it’s kept intact. That sword of Damocles can not be splintered. It’s got to be kept intact if it’s going to have its effect of basically forcing the Republicans, who have taken an ideologically rigid step against any new revenues, to relent and reflect what public opinion clearly is — that there is room for additional revenues, particularly in closing the loopholes [and] in restoring that higher rate for upper bracket Americans.” [Martin Dempsey, 1/12/12. Carl Levin via TPM, 1/26/12]

Last year, conservatives said defense must be on the table — now they are backing away. Last year House leadership and 17 Republicans from the Budget Committee were among those calling for the military to share the burden of deficit reduction. Now, as Politico reports, “The House GOP’s strategy will almost certainly shift the burden away from defense. The House Armed Services Committee is not even among the six chosen to come up with savings.” According to The Hill, the new Ryan budget actually increases defense spending.

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), House speaker. “[T]here is no part of this government that should be sacred. Uh, I believe there’s room, to find savings in the Department of Defense.” [John Boehner, 1/6/11]

Seventeen of 20 House Budget Committee Republicans, including Chairman Paul Ryan.  Last year, as Bloomberg News reported, the group signed onto “a symbolic amendment saying national security costs should be included in any responsible deficit-reduction effort.” [Bloomberg News, 5/31/11]

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), House majority leader. As Mother Jones reported last January, “Asked whether he’d consider cutting defense spending, Cantor replied: ‘Everything’s got to be on the table. Everyone in this town must go through what people at home are doing—which is doing more with less, and prioritizing what we should be about.’ He went on, ‘We’re going to be focused on what are the things that are priority to ensure our national security.’” [Eric Cantor via Mother Jones, 1/4/11]

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “Historically, you’ve had a lot of Republicans who have refused even to consider the possibility of cuts in the area of defense… I don’t think we have that luxury anymore.” [Mike Lee via Bloomberg, 5/31/11]

[Politico, 3/19/12. The Hill, 3/20/12]

Ryan’s budget accords with the principles of Romney’s defense spending plans: increase defense spending with little regard for strategy, the foundations of American strength at home or the deficit. As the Boston Globe reports, “Romney’s solution [defense budget plan] is one of the most far-ranging, expensive, and perhaps least understood of his campaign. He has vowed to commit at least 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product – $4 out of every $100 in the nation’s economy – to ‘core’ defense spending, not including many war expenses.”

The Globe continues: “Romney first broached the idea several years ago, when the nation was spending closer to 4 percent of GDP on defense. Under next year’s budget, defense spending is projected to be about 3.2 percent – yet Romney has stuck by his 4 percent vow. Put another way, that means Romney proposes spending 61 percent more than Obama at the end of a decade-long cycle, according to the libertarian Cato Institute. Enacting such an increase at the same time that Romney wants to slash taxes and balance the budget could cost trillions of dollars and require huge cuts in domestic programs. As Romney’s website puts it matter-of-factly, ‘This will not be a cost-free process.’’” [Boston Globe, 3/19/12]

What We’re Reading

A classified U.S. military simulation of an Israeli attack on Iran suggested that the strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead, while delaying Iran’s nuclear program 1-2 years.

Afghanistan’s president expressed outrage with the U.S. for not sharing critical information about how Robert Bales purportedly shot and killed sixteen Afghan civilians.

Yemen’s minister of human rights announced in a speech to the United Nations that at least 2,000 Yemenis were killed during the year of political unrest.

Human Rights Watch claims armed members of the Syrian opposition have carried out “serious human rights abuses” against Syrian soldiers and civilians.

Russia has joined the International Committee of the Red Cross in calling for a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire in Syria.

Britain’s 12-month inflation slowed sharply to 3.4 percent.

Six political activists in Zimbabwe who met last year to view and talk about news broadcasts of the Arab Spring protests were convicted of conspiring to incite anti-government violence.

Greece’s Parliament is ready to approve the country’s new international bailout deal despite resistance from Communists and other left-wing opponents, who fear the agreement will aggravate suffering for ordinary citizens.

Peru cancelled a visit by the British Royal Navy in a show of solidarity with Argentina, who has been at odds recently with the UK over the Falkland Islands.

North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator confirmed that UN nuclear inspectors have been invited to the country following a deal with the U.S.

Commentary of the Day

The Guardian’s editorial board explains China’s recent political turbulence.

Michael Birnbaum highlights the strength of Poland’s zloty, contrasting the currency against the euro.

Jack Goldsmith suggests that lawsuits and congressional acquiescence have strengthened the American national security state.

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