Romney’s defense budget is unrealistic
Summary: today guest author Winslow Wheeler reviews Mitt Romney’s proposal to boost defense spending until it reaches “a floor of 4% of GDP” (as he proclaims at his official website), and explains why it is an insult to history.
- Romney’s defense budget is unrealistic
- About the author
- Other articles by Winslow Wheeler
- About reforming our defense agencies
(1) “Romney’s defense budget is unrealistic”
By Winslow Wheeler, from The Hill’s Congressional Blog, 1 November 2012.
Reposted with the author’s generous permission.
This graph shows how unprecedented it is. It tracks spending for the Department of Defense (DOD) from 1948 to 2022, expressed in inflation-adjusted dollars normalized to 2012. The data up to 2012 are actual spending. The data for the years after 2012 show
- Romney’s plan in red,
- President Obama’s in blue, and
- spending imposed by sequestration in green (the Budget Control Act’s automatic reductions set for 2 January 2013)
The Romney Plan shown assumes a gradual build up to his 4% goal, as calculated by Travis Sharp at the Center for a New American Security. Compared to other calculations of Romney’s declared intent, it is one of the more modest. The data for the Obama plan are from his 2013 budget, and the data for sequestration is from the Congressional Budget Office. In each, money has been included to accommodate a rapid drawdown from Afghanistan: all three data lines assume the Obama budget for overseas contingencies in 2013, $88.5 billion; an arbitrary assumption of $50 billion for 2014, $25 billion for 2015, and nothing after that. In other words, the spending levels shown are about as low as one might conceive.
Romney’s plan would boost the Pentagon’s budget more or less $300 billion above the previous post-WW2 highs, namely the Korea and Vietnam wars and the Reagan Cold War peak, and it would more than double the average amount of DOD spending during the Cold War: $440 billion compared to $900 billion.
Assessed against the low points after the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the Reagan era, Romney’s nadir is about $250 billion higher. Even Obama’s lesser plan and the so-called “Doomsday” of sequester are well above the previous draw-down lows — between $150 billion to $100 billion higher, they are extraordinarily well stuffed with money, and yet President Obama, horrified that the lesser might occur, promised that sequester “will not happen.”
Romney would massively outspend Cold War budgets that addressed hundreds of hostile Warsaw Pact divisions in Europe, a Soviet navy that at one point numerically outnumbered ours, and a dogmatically communist Peoples’ Republic of China. Today, we face al Qaeda and its ilk who spend in a year less than we spend in one day; the big bogey man of the future, China, is our second largest trading partner.
Just what is Romney trying to address?
For years the mantra of the Republican defense-politicos, for example at the Heritage Foundation, has been 4% of GDP for defense. It is a wonderfully facile gimmick: it sounds like only a modest increase from our current 3.5%, and it presents an image of paltry defense spending today compared to the Cold War, when we spent up to 9%. The 4% mantra was de rigueur during the Republican presidential primaries for anyone hoping to win; candidate Romney dutifully complied.
Also, with his gigantic DOD budget increase Romney is also clearly signaling that he intends to achieve his force structure goals not through reform, which would cost far less, but by simply throwing money. If he is the businessman he claims to be, Romney knows that is stupid. However, the money would not be thrown just at the Pentagon, but also to contractors, who have been expressing their appreciation with campaign contributions sufficient to bring him almost even with Obama.
Romney’s 4% solution has nothing to do with the real world.
(2) About the author
Winslow T. Wheeler is Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project On Government Oversight in Washington, D.C.
From 1971 to 2002, Wheeler worked on national security issues for members of the U.S. Senate and for the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). He was the first, and according to Senate records the last, Senate staffer to work simultaneously on the personal staffs of a Republican and a Democrat (Pryor and Kassebaum).
In the Senate staff, Wheeler was involved in legislation concerning the War Powers Act, Pentagon reform, foreign policy, and oversight of the defense budget/programs. At GAO he directed comprehensive studies on the 1991 Gulf War air campaign, the US strategic nuclear triad, and weapons testing. Each of these studies found prevailing conventional wisdom about weapons to be badly misinformed.
In 2002 when he worked on the Republican staff of the Senate Budget Committee, Wheeler authored an essay, under the pseudonym “Spartacus,” addressing Congress’ reaction to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks (“Mr. Smith Is Dead: No One Stands in the Way as Congress Lards Post-September 11 Defense Bills with Pork“). When senators criticized in the essay attempted to have Wheeler fired, he resigned his position.
He has authored two books: The Wastrels of Defense (2004) about Congress and national security, and Military Reform (2007). He was the Editor of America’s Defense Meltdown (2009). He also edited of two anthologies, The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It (2011) and America’s Defense Meltdown: Military Reform for President Obama and the New Congress (2009).
He appears in interviews on national TV and radio and has written articles and commentaries for national, local, and professional publications. These venues include “60 Minutes,” C-SPAN’s “Book Notes” and “Q & A,” National Public Radio, the PBS News Hour, the Washington Post, Politico, Mother Jones, Barron’s, Defense News, and Armed Forces Journal.
(3) Other articles by Winslow Wheeler
- Romney or Obama: Which National Security Opportunist Do You Prefer?, 15 October 2012.
- The Myth of American Military Superiority, 13 October 2012.
- Budget and Hardware Myths, Part II, 1 October 2012
- Budget and Hardware Myths, Part I, 1 October 2012
- Sequester: Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be, 16 August 2012
- Common Defense Quarterly Article on Drones, 15 June 2012.
- Think-Tanked: Old Wine in Dark Bottles, 13 June 2012.
- A Peek at Pentagon Pork: A Taxpayers’ Guide, 29 May 2012.
- The Jet That Ate The Pentagon, 2 May 2012.
(4) For More Information: Reforming our defense agencies
- Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus, 11 August 2008
- About the rising pressure to cut the US military budget, 24 July 2010
- Dragging American Military Culture into the 21st Century, 13 August 2010
- We could reduce government bureaucracy, but much of it is military/intel – and untouchable, 31 August 2010
- Important new articles about reforming our military, a key to balancing the Federal budget, 29 April 2011
- Reconfiguring the US military for life after The Long War, 27 September 2011 — By Doug Macgregor