Paul Ryan’s Budget a Turning Point in Defense Debate
The unveiling this week of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal has drawn new battle lines in the defense arena. Not only is he seeking to reverse President Obama’s proposed reductions but he would also do away with the dreaded automatic cuts scheduled for January that Congress signed into law last August.
Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin who chairs the House Budget Committee, in essence has done much of what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said he wanted Congress to do: Cut social programs and protect defense. The only difference is that Panetta assumed that Defense would have to share some of the debt-reduction burden, and that reasonable tax hikes should be considered to help pay for national defense.
Ryan granted the Pentagon’s wishes beyond the generals’ wildest dreams.
For fiscal year 2013, he is proposing a Pentagon base budget of $554 billion, compared to $525 billion sought by the president.
The plan also increases long-term funding for defense. “We exceed the president’s budget request by $187 billion over the 10 year window and ensure real growth every year in the defense budget from 2014-2022,” Ryan spokesman Gerrit Lansing says.
Ryan’s plan has been assailed as one that guts domestic programs and retiree benefits to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, and boosts military spending at a time when wars are winding down. Even the Pentagon’s own leaders have acknowledged that the Defense Department has become bloated after a decade of rampant budget growth and needs to regain fiscal discipline in order to tame the nation's debt.
Some analysts also have slammed the proposal for failing to recognize that a strong national security requires more than just a large military budget. Ryan’s plan would reduce funding for the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and for international affairs programs, which are important elements of U.S. national power, says Michael Breen, former Army officer and vice president of the Truman National Security Project.
“We need diplomats out there, not just tanks,” he says, “Budgets for diplomacy, development and support for democracy are being slashed,” he says. “It’s a reckless decision.”
Iraq War veteran former Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., denounced the plan as an “insult to veterans” because it turns healthcare into a voucher program and reduces resources for Veterans’ Affairs.
Lansing disputes that assertion. “The claim that the House Republican budget spends 13 percent less on veterans relative to President Obama’s budget request is not accurate,” he says.
The House Republican budget matches the president’s request of $61.3 billion for fiscal year 2013, says Lansing. “Over the 10-year window, the House Republican budget is actually above the president’s request on both the mandatory and discretionary side of the ledger.” He says Ryan’s budget spends $16.3 billion more than the president on veterans programs over the next 10 years.
Federal employee groups also are furious at Ryan’s recommendations to reduce the work force. “Although much of the Ryan-budget would be categorized as pro-Defense, there’s a huge piece of the proposal that would dramatically weaken U.S. defense and security,” says Aaron Eske, spokesman for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “Ryan’s plan to cut one-in-10 federal workers in the next 10 years will delete more than 100,000 jobs directly related to U.S. defense,” he says. “Nearly two in three federal employees work for the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Justice and Homeland Security.”
"Chairman Ryan’s belief that it is permissible to penalize middle-class federal workers, who protect Americans and keep our nation moving forward, is frightening,” Joseph A. Beaudoin, president of NARFE, writes in a statement. “Whatever happened to 'shared sacrifice'?”
The bickering has only just begun. Administration officials and congressional aides have said that the most likely scenario is that the entire federal government’s fiscal year 2013 budget will remain unsettled until after the November elections, when a lame duck Congress will have to pass a budget, increase the debt limit and deal with the sequestration cuts that would go into effect January 3.