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Michele Bachmann’s $150 billion error on defense spending

GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is advocating for increases in defense spending and criticizing President Barack Obama‘s planned Pentagon cuts, but her math is about $150 billion off. Here’s what she said yesterday Jay Sekulow radio show while campaigning in South Carolina: BACHMANN: What people recognize is that there’s a fear that the United States ...

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GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is advocating for increases in defense spending and criticizing President Barack Obama's planned Pentagon cuts, but her math is about $150 billion off.

Here's what she said yesterday Jay Sekulow radio show while campaigning in South Carolina:

GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is advocating for increases in defense spending and criticizing President Barack Obama‘s planned Pentagon cuts, but her math is about $150 billion off.

Here’s what she said yesterday Jay Sekulow radio show while campaigning in South Carolina:

BACHMANN: What people recognize is that there’s a fear that the United States is in an unstoppable decline. They see the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Soviet Union and our loss militarily going forward. And especially with this very bad debt ceiling bill, what we have done is given a favor to President Obama and the first thing he’ll whack is five hundred billion out of the military defense at a time when we’re fighting three wars. People recognize that.

Several articles focused on the fact that she called Russia the "Soviet Union," despite the Soviet Union having collapsed 20 years ago. Here at The Cable, we also find it odd that a candidate for the nation’s highest office could forget the Cold War ended, but Bachmann’s more substantive flub was her claim that Obama is going to cut $500 billion from the defense budget.

The administration claims that the debt deal passed and signed by Congress would cut $350 billion from the defense budget over ten years. We’ve reported that those numbers are just an estimate and not guaranteed. Regardless, if that is what Bachmann was referring to, her number was still way off.

What’s more, it’s not as if these cuts are the president’s sole doing: They were part of a deal the White House made with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and passed by the GOP-led House. And most of the Tea Party GOP lawmakers who voted against the debt deal objected to the lack of more cuts; they didn’t oppose the bill because it cut defense.

Perhaps Bachmann was talking about the "trigger" mechanism that would automatically cut defense by $600 billion over ten years if the 12-person legislative "supercommittee" can’t agree on a plan for $1.5 trillion in new discretionary spending cuts. But again, those would be Congress’s cuts as much as Obama’s, and Bachmann’s math would still be off by $100 billion.

Whatever her explanation, Bachmann’s comment contributed to her emerging identity as the Tea Party’s new hawk, forcefully seeking to separate out national security from the Tea Party’s cost-cutting, budget-slashing, government-shrinking agenda.

Bachmann met with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in June to discuss national security issues and, in a June 28 interview with NPR, she criticized Obama’s decision to draw down troops in Afghanistan faster than what military commanders recommended, accusing the president of placing political considerations ahead of national security.

What’s clear is that national security and foreign policy are becoming lines of attack for more and more GOP candidates as they look to distinguish themselves from their primary rivals, and to probe Obama’s potential weaknesses in the general election. What’s also clear is that these candidates’ accuracy on these issues continues to be poor.

The Bachmann campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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