Budget austerity has become the topic de jour throughout Washington as members of Congress, the White House, Pentagon officials, and interest groups debate how to approach the future with fewer resources.
Republican presidential candidate and former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney believes that he has a solution, and it includes spending an additional $2 trillion on the defense budget over the next decade.
Governor Romney has proposed a cap on federal spending at 20% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the most widely used method of measuring the size of the economy, extending 2001-2003 tax cuts permanently, eliminating taxation of investment income of most individual taxpayers, reducing the corporate income tax, eliminating the estate tax, repealing taxes enacted by the 2010 healthcare reform legislation, and balancing the federal budget.
Romney has also proposed increasing the defense budget to at minimum 4% of GDP and increasing the number active duty of military service persons by 100,000. If implemented, this plan would limit non-defense discretionary spending to 1.7% of GDP by 2021, though it has never fallen below 3.2% of GDP in the past.
But what would that cut really mean?
Richard Kogan and Paul N. Van de Water, senior fellows for Federal Fiscal Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, have done the arithmetic and found that the necessary budget cuts to meet the goals of Romney’s plan would be massive. If Social Security and Medicare were exempted, 38.1% cuts would be needed in discretionary programs by 2016 with 56% cuts by 2022. If Social Security and Medicare are included proportionally in the reduction of non-defense spending, non-defense federal programs would be cut by 19.6% in 2016 and 26.5% in 2022.
By increasing the defense budget to at least 4% of GDP, Governor Romney has proposed to increase naval shipbuilding spending by two-thirds, expand funding for national missile defense, and add 100,000 active duty troops to the military. According to Congressional Budget Office projections, cumulative defense spending from 2012 to 2021 is currently estimated to amount to $5.811 trillion, while Romney’s plan would cost an additional $2.046 trillion over the same period. This would result in a total projected defense budget of $7.857 trillion over the same period.
These estimates do not include potential war costs. Romney has recently criticized the Obama administration’s accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan, leading to speculation that war costs may also increase with Romney as president.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey has “deep concerns … actually, anxieties, about sequestration” and the reduced force posture that the automatic, across-the-board cuts would necessitate. But if Romney has his way, the Pentagon’s fears would be alleviated at the expense of the rest of the entire Federal budget.