Romney Advisers: True Cost of Defense Buildup Remains TBD
The Romney campaign agrees that it wants to increase military spending, but is refuting the $2 trillion price tag.
That estimate was concocted by the president’s supporters, for shock value, said senior Romney campaign adviser Dov Zakheim, who served as Defense Department comptroller during the George W. Bush administration.
“We didn’t talk about $2 trillion,” Zakheim said Oct. 11 during a breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington, D.C.
“That assumption was made by Democrats. … Take it for what it’s worth,” he said.
Several analysts have backed the $2 trillion estimate, based on Romney’s pledge to allocate 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product to the Defense Department’s base budget, which does not include war expenses. Romney has criticized the president’s defense budget proposal for reducing the size of the ground force and for not funding enough high-tech weapon systems. He promised to reverse administration projections that show defense spending dipping below 4 percent of GDP in the second half of this decade.
According torecent numbers crunched by Travis Sharp, of the Center for a New American Security, from 2013 to 2022, the difference between Obama’s budget and Romney’s promise ranges from $2 trillion to $2.3 trillion — figures that Travis based on congressional and White House projections about federal spending and the size of the U.S. economy.
Zakheim defended Romney’s plan as manageable, considering that current defense spending is 4.2 percent of GDP, if one includes war costs. “These are not outrageous numbers and they are not $2 trillion,” he said.
But Zakheim would not offer an alternative cost estimate for Romney’s defense plan. “The correct number will depend on GDP,” he said. “If you believe Romney can turn the economy around, GDP will grow.” The larger the GDP, he added, the easier it will be to absorb 4 percent for defense.
Romney’s defense plan has come under attack not just by the Obama campaign but also bynational security experts who question the rationale for throwing more money at the Pentagon after a decade of rampant spending.
“We care about defense budgets, but any leader will tell you that strategy has to drive budgets,” said Michael Breen, executive director of the progressive Truman National Security Project. “Romney’s is a politically driven budget with no strategy,” Breen told National Defense last week during a news conference. “Increase the size of ground forces to do what?” he asked. “Those are unanswered questions.”
Drew Sloan, a former Army officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Romney’s military buildup is a throwback to the Reagan years. “They see the world like it’s 1984,” Sloan said at the Truman conference. “Add $2 trillion to the defense budget to fight whom? The Soviet Union? They’re living in the past,” he said.
Zakheim contends that proposing more spending does not make Romney a “warmonger.” A larger Navy, for instance, helps U.S. diplomatic efforts by providing “forward presence,” he argued.
Romney’s military spending surge, Zakheim cautioned, would not come in the early years of his administration. No massive “supplemental” should be expected in 2013, or 2014, he said. The growth would be in the “out-years.”
As war spending declines, the “base budget should climb to 4 percent of GDP,” said Roger Zakheim, Dov’s son, who also is a Romney defense adviser. “That’s how we get to the Romney plan and not this $2 trillion made-up number,” Roger Zakheim said.
During the meeting with reporters, both blasted the president and congressional Democrats for dipping into the defense budget to pay for expanding social and health-care entitlement programs.
In the big picture of government spending, defense accounts for 17 percent, Dov said. “The problem for Democrats is that they don’t want to address entitlements.”
Romney believes the president is “sacrificing the military to cut the deficit,” even though defense is only a small piece of the spending problem, Roger added.
Romney's campaign has argued that, with 4 percent of GDP, there would be no need to cut ground troops by 100,000, as the president recommended. A bigger budget would also pay for more Navy ships and Air Force combat aircraft.
But one area of the Pentagon’s budget that would be in Romney’s crosshairs is the civilian workforce.
“There are as many people in suits as there are in uniform,” Dov said. A bloated bureaucracy drains resources from the uniformed ranks, and from weapons modernization programs, he said.
Although Defense Department inefficiency has been a chronic bipartisan problem, Romney will take a tough stance, his advisers predict. The civil service keeps growing while the department becomes less efficient, Dov said. “Is there something to that correlation? The answer is yes. … Paring down the civil service, with the problems that involves, is not simple. Romney wants to do that.”
Another challenge for the Pentagon is that its civilian workforce, especially the acquisitions corps, is “undereducated,” Dov said. “The acquisition corps is out of balance. You don’t have enough oversight. You have a very uneducated consumer.”
While military officers are required to earn college degrees to earn promotions, no such incentives exist on the civilian side, he said. “You have engineers in the Defense Department who haven’t gone to school in 30 to 40 years,” he said. At the same time, “technology changes quickly.”
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore