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Don’t Raid the Defense Piggy-Bank

By my count during his Twitter Town Hall, President Obama mentioned defense spending 12 times during the course of an hour and eight minutes of conversation–each time the context being how much he would like to cut defense. One of those mentions was a particularly revealing slip. He said:

The nice thing about the defense budget is it’s so big, it’s so huge, that a 1 percent reduction is the equivalent of the education budget.  Not — I’m exaggerating, but it’s so big that you can make relatively modest changes to defense that end up giving you a lot of head room to fund things like basic research or student loans or things like that.

Is 1 percent of the defense budget really equivalent to the entire education budget? Not quite. In fiscal year 2012 the government is slated to spend $708 billion on defense (including the supplemental appropriations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). The Department of Education’s budget is slated to be $71 billion. One percent of the defense budget, then, is $7 billion — or less than 10 percent of the federal education budget. OK, Obama admitted he was exaggerating, but this is quite a massive exaggeration. What it indicates is that Obama sees the Defense Department as a piggy-bank to be raided to pay for his domestic priorities — e.g., the Department of Education (whose spending has a tenuous relationship at best with actual education).

The tragedy is that some Republicans are considering going along with this view which risks destroying our global military dominance without doing much to close the federal budget gap which is caused by out-of-control entitlement spending, not defense. Republicans ought not to head down this ill-advised course.