One of the easiest to fact check claims at the vice presidential debate Thursday night was Paul Ryan’s claim that he and Mitt Romney do not propose to increase military spending by $2 trillion over the next 10 years.
He was wrong.
“So we’re saying don’t cut the military by a trillion dollars,” Ryan said. “Not increase it by a trillion, don’t cut it by a trillion dollars.”
First on the trillion dollar cut he’s warning about, that’s a reference to the sequester cuts set to kick in in early 2013. Ryan, along with all Republican leaders, have disavowed the defense sequester they voted for, and blamed its looming, across-the-board defense cuts on President Obama.
But Ryan is also suggesting that they represent Obama’s proposal for military spending. That’s a false implication. President Obama’s budget assumes the sequester will be repealed and that, in inflation adjusted terms, defense spending will be held fairly steady. In nominal terms Obama calls for it increase from $525 billion in 2014 to $634 billion in 2022.
But back to the second claim. As Travis Sharp, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, points out, Romney does in effect call for spending $2 trillion more on defense, and did not object when President Obama pointed it out at the first presidential debate.
The basis for the math is Romney’s stated goal of pegging defense spending at 4 percent of GDP.
Here’s how the Romney campaign describes the plan on its website: “Mitt Romney will begin by reversing Obama-era defense cuts and return to the budget baseline established by Secretary Robert Gates in 2010, with the goal of setting core defense spending — meaning funds devoted to the fundamental military components of personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement, and research and development — at a floor of 4 percent of GDP.”
Because GDP tends to grow faster than inflation, indexing defense spending — or any spending — to it, is in effect a call to increase its budget and its buying power every year.
Based on CBO projections of GDP over the next 10 years, that suggests Romney proposes to spend between $2.063 and $2.316 trillion more on defense than Obama’s current budget calls for — depending on how quickly the spending is ramped up.
The Romney campaign essentially describes the plan as a call to ply current spending on the war in Afghanistan into the military base budget.
Currently, total defense spending — both in the base budget and for the wars — exceeds four percent. As war spending drops, Romney proposes to use the savings to increase the base budget. Republicans have attacked President Obama’s proposal to redirect war savings into infrastructure, education and other domestic spending as a budget gimmick.
“Romney hasn’t explained how exactly he would pay for $2 trillion in additional defense spending,” writes Sharp. “His plan doesn’t look realistic under the current status quo, and Obama is justified in calling him out on it. But the debate shouldn’t only be about the arithmetic of the status quo. It should be about choosing America’s role in the world and deciding which candidate has the leadership ability to bring that choice to fruition.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.