The news today has been all health care, all the time. And understandably so. But amid the laser-like focus on the Supreme Court ruling upholding President Obama’s new health care system, it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Health care is merely the latest in a long line of social welfare expenditures, going all the way back to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which have swallowed up an ever-growing share of the federal budget—and the national economy.
As this useful Heritage Foundation chart shows, entitlement spending first exceeded defense spending in 1976. Ever since, the trend has been getting more lopsided with entitlements taking up ever more of the economy and defense ever less. That gap has become especially pronounced since President Obama took office in 2009. The percentage of GDP going to the federal government grew from 20.7 percent in 2008 to 25.1 percent in 2011 before dipping slightly to 23.2 percent this year. Meanwhile, the state governments are taking another 15 percent, which means that as a total share of the economy the government is now consuming roughly 40 percent, and of that, less than five percent is going to the military.
I am deeply concerned that further cuts in the defense budget—never mind the cuts that have already occurred—will leave us a crippled superpower. But I also recognize that the military isn’t the only instrument of power projection that we have or need. The State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies also do valuable work—not always, but often enough that we should hesitate to cut their funding if we want to remain an active, engaged force for good in the world.
Yet, that is just what the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee is proposing. It wants to cut the State Department and foreign operations budget by more than $5 billion next year, from the $54.7 billion the administration has requested down to $48.4 billion. Obviously, cutting State Department funding is easier for Republicans than cutting the Department of Defense, but it is no wiser as a long-term prescription for America’s future. These types of cuts will do little to address our deep-seated fiscal woes, which require entitlement reform, but they will do much to handicap our ability to influence the world.
The Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee have a new chart out today that really clarifies what President Obama’s budget will mean for future national spending priorities. Under Obama’s budget, interest payments on debt will exceed national defense spending by 2019:
The reason for this is that under Obama’s budget, rapidly growing debt would lead to higher interest payments, and substantial cuts to the defense budget would cause defense spending to increase at a slower rate.
In an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley, Rep. Paul Ryan backed away from his comments that questioned whether generals were being honest with Congress by supporting the Obama administration’s defense budget proposal.
Ryan told Crowley that he “misspoke” last week, and said he has called Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and apologized:
“Yes – no, I really misspoke, to be candid with you, Candy. I didn’t mean to make that kind of an impression. So I was clumsy in how I was describing the point I was trying to make. And the point I was trying to make – and General Dempsey and I spoke after that. And we – I wanted to give that point to him, which was, that was not what I was attempting to say.
What I was attempting to say is, President Obama put out his budget number for the Pentagon first, $500 billion cut, and then they began the strategy review to conform the budget to meet that number.
We think it should have been the other way around. What is the best strategy for our military and so we have a strategy driven budget. Now the result of our review of the president’s budget on the military was we should cut $3 billion from the Pentagon budget over the next 10 years instead of the $500 billion.”
In a great op-ed at Fox News, Mackenzie Eaglen points out the degree to which Barack Obama’s passion for underfunding the Pentagon is at odds with America’s defense obligations. In March of last year, “for the first time, according to the Pentagon’s Transportation Command chief, every combatant commander had a priority one mission requiring the help of the Air Force,” she notes. Even with an administration whose first foreign-policy priority is to curtail intervention abroad, air power was maxed out.
And, in historical terms, it didn’t take much: Leading from behind in Libya, the surge in Afghanistan, support in Japan after the tsunami, and air support for Obama’s trip to South America. We did it all and we did it well but unless you believe in the end of humanitarian disaster and international conflict, America’s defense load is never going to lighten to the point that the Obama budget envisions. Instead, we’ll just be unable to carry it.