Presidential debate 101: Does Romney want extra $2 trillion for Pentagon?
Romney's call for Pentagon spending to be no less than 4 percent of GDP could add $2 trillion to its budget. But Obama's claim that this is money the military doesn't want misses a key issue: civilian control.
Does Mitt Romney really want to provide the Pentagon trillions more than the nation’s generals and admirals have requested? The Obama campaign insists that’s the case. At Tuesday’s presidential debate, while discussing the GOP nominee’s fiscal plans, President Obama put it this way: “Governor Romney ... also wants to spend $2 trillion on additional military programs, even though the military’s not asking for them."Skip to next paragraph
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Romney didn’t really engage in discussion on the issue. But his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, did earlier this month in the debate between vice presidential candidates in Kentucky. When Vice President Biden made the $2 trillion assertion, Representative Ryan hit back with his own take: The Obama administration’s plans would actually lead to a reduction in military forces.
“Look, do we believe in peace through strength? You bet we do,” said Ryan.
OK, then. The two sides are lobbing charges back and forth as if they’re engaged in a wonk version of dodge ball. We’ll try to shed some light on this issue as best we can. Remember that big Washington budget numbers are often far squishier than you’d think, given the apparent precision of numerals.
We’ll start with a fact that neither campaign disputes. In a National Security White Paper, the Romney campaign has vowed that it will set a floor for core defense spending at 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product.
By way of comparison, the Obama administration’s 2013 budget proposes a core defense budget – spending which excludes the costs of war operations – of about $525 billion, which should be equivalent to about 3.3 percent of GDP.
So how much would it cost to dial defense spending up to 4 percent of US output? Travis Sharp, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security (a think tank founded by two current Obama administration officials), has looked at the question pretty thoroughly. Using Congressional Budget Office numbers to predict economic growth, and figuring that it would take Romney a few years to get up to the 4 percent number, Sharp puts the 10-year cost of total Romney administration defense spending at about $7.8 trillion dollars.