The Sheathed Sword

The Ryan Express strikes again

Well, the first round in the FY 2014 budget wars has begun. The Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, have made their latest offer in the non-stop non-negotiation on taxes and spending. And when it comes to defense, the Ryan Express is true to form: full of empty boxcars and misleading data. The goal of the ...

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Well, the first round in the FY 2014 budget wars has begun. The Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, have made their latest offer in the non-stop non-negotiation on taxes and spending. And when it comes to defense, the Ryan Express is true to form: full of empty boxcars and misleading data.

The goal of the proposed resolution is, as it was last year, to "protect defense." Now, to be fair, his defense number — $560 billion — is about $15 billion below his number in last year’s resolution. Slight dose of realism there.

But basically the Ryan Express defense boxcar is empty of any contribution to deficit reduction. It seeks to reverse the sequester on defense spending, something it does not do on the domestic side, by holding the defense budget flat (last year’s budget plus inflation) for the next 10 years — as if sequester never happened and never would, either.

Not enough, says the Heritage Foundation; more than we need or the Defense Department will ever see, say I. That level of funding would give DOD more than $6 trillion over the next decade. Heck, they will be lucky to see $5.2 trillion, in my view — or something like a 20 percent cut in constant dollars below that flat line.

And there is a really misleading number in the middle of Ryan’s discussion of the sequester’s impact on the defense budget. Ryan says: "Though defense is about 20 percent of the budget, it’s absorbing 50 percent of the cuts." This assertion takes the Express right off the rails.

Defense is only 20 percent of the budget if he includes entitlement spending. But entitlement spending is virtually immune from sequestration. The sequester hits discretionary spending — the funds the appropriators provide each year to the federal agencies. Defense is more than 50 percent of discretionary spending, which doesn’t make the sequester formula look so unfair, after all.

But, then, Ryan wants it to look unfair, hoping the Washington data mavens will miss the subtle change.

This Express is not going to move very far, very fast. It returns us to pre-sequestration days and is on a collision course with what Sen. Patty Murray is crafting in the Senate Budget Committee as we speak. Stay tuned for the sounds of the train wreck.

Gordon Adams is a professor of international relations at American University's School of International Service and is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center. From 1993 to 1997, he was the senior White House budget official for national security.

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