Ryan’s Hope: Don’t Cut Military Spending So Deeply

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Shannon Stapleton / REUTERS

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney introduces U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate during a campaign event at the retired battleship USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia August 11, 2012.

Somehow it seemed fitting – for the final member of the first pair of major-party tickets in nearly a century lacking anyone with military experience – for Mitt Romney to introduce his vice presidential pick, Paul Ryan, aboard the battleship USS Wisconsin.

After all, Ryan is a congressman from southeastern Wisconsin. He holds the seat occupied from 1971 to 1993 by the late Democrat Les Aspin, who spent a sad year as President Clinton’s first defense secretary before dying in 1995. But battleships also are obsolete: there are no longer any in the U.S. Navy, and the Romney-Ryan ticket was launched from a floating museum.

Romney’s choice shows the campaign will be fought over economics and the role of government, not foreign affairs or defense-spending levels. In part, that’s a recognition that Obama gets pretty good grades – especially for a Democrat – in these areas, notably for dispatching SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden and for winding down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Both Romney and his running mate want to spend more on the military than President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. The GOP team makes a valid point: it is soaring spending on entitlements – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – that is driving the deficit, not defense spending. And while they are right, the public still wants to cut defense spending more than entitlements, beyond the $487 billion already sliced by the Obama Administration over the coming decade.

Romney and his running mate are headed the other way. Romney has gone so far as to embrace some Republicans’ call to peg defense spending at 4% of the nation’s gross domestic product, boosting defense spending by $100 billion, or nearly 20%, in 2013.

Such a plan would make defense budgets more predictable, and that could lead to more efficient procurement, advocates say. Opponents say linking military spending to GDP is wrong – military spending should be linked to the threats the country faces.

“Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan both respect members of our military who sacrifice so much to defend our freedoms,” the campaign said in a statement. “They share the view that America’s leadership position in the world is based on a robust national defense, strengthened relationships with our allies and a philosophy of peace through strength,” echoing a phrase used by Ronald Reagan during his 1980s military buildup. But that, of course, was during the Cold War, and it worked – the Soviet Union went out of business. Yet, the U.S. military spends more today per year than it did during the Cold War, but there is no superpower rival to outspend.

Ryan, for his part, has called for cutting Obama’s proposed cuts – got it? – in half, from his seat as chairman of the House Budget Committee. “This budget funds defense at levels that keep America safe by providing $554 billion for the next fiscal year — $6.2 trillion over the next decade – for national defense spending, an amount that is consistent with America’s military goals and strategies,” Ryan’s latest budget plan says. That’s only marginally more than the $551 billion Obama sought, not including $88 billion both include for the Afghan war. “Over the ten-year period covered by the budget resolution, this budget restores about half of the funding cut by the President and ensures that the defense budget grows in real terms in each year –providing adequate funding to maintain a robust end-strength and to address the years of forgone equipment modernization.”

The Romney campaign dismissed the ticket’s lack of military experience. “The ticket is no different that Obama and Biden,” the Romney campaign’s talking points say of its lack of military experience.

It’s a safe bet that’s the last time the campaign notes the two tickets’  similarities.