Paul Ryan shows us why Republicans have no credibility on spending

Writing Wednesday in Real Clear Defense, House Budget Chair Rep. Paul Ryan offers a stunningly shortsighted view of the nation’s spending crisis, illustrating perhaps more clearly than ever before why so many Republicans have no credibility on the spending issue.

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Ryan writes from the clichéd and dubious assumption that President Obama is “gutting” the military and thereby making the world less safe. He notes, rightly, that the President’s most recent budget requests lower troop numbers.

As the U.S. begins to end two decade-long wars and modernize its warfare, there will be contentious and different ways of doing so. Yet while President Obama – or more accurately, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel – may have a different approach toward military matters, Pentagon-budget slashers they are not.

Ryan suggests that tiny sequester cuts constitute a gutting of our military, even though analysts have noted that the President’s most recent budget request cuts Pentagon spending by – wait for it – $113 million, a measly 0.1% of the Pentagon budget from last year.

Ryan also ignores the accounting gimmicks that Congress and the President play with in order to hike up the Pentagon’s budget even more. The Pentagon isn’t funded solely via its base budget; it also gets funded through the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. This money has been immune from cuts or oversight, and unlike the base budget, it has increased dramatically in recent years.

As Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has explained, “the OCO loophole [is used] to increase the base defense budget without breaching the budget caps.” In other words, the supposed “cuts” Ryan refers to are little more than smoke and mirrors.

While it is true, as Ryan says, that Pentagon spending makes up “only” 18% of the budget, President Obama’s budget request still sends a whopping 55% of discretionary funds to the Pentagon. As such, it remains the single largest item of discretionary spending, and the third largest item of spending overall. Even under the supposedly draconian sequester, Pentagon spending is greater than that of the next 13 nations combined and $680 billion more than was spent in 2001.

Keeping the U.S. fiscally sound requires making tough choices, but at the very least, Ryan and others should consider the easy choices. Just yesterday, the GAO released a study showing nineteen separate areas of fragmentation, duplication, and overlap in the Pentagon budget. Yet while Ryan is able to see the glaring problems with America’s bloated and massive entitlement programs, he finds it easy to turn a blind eye to his own pet department’s contribution to the U.S.’s fiscal woes.

He doubles down on notoriously failed programs like the F-35, while ignoring these vast and wide-ranging examples of waste and duplication. To neglect even obvious examples of waste in favor of defending more Pentagon spending at all costs – while proclaiming one’s fiscal conservatism – is the height of hypocrisy.

A country in financial crisis is not a safe country. In order to preserve our strength abroad, Ryan should be concerned with our finances at home and seriously address the country’s nearly $18 trillion debt.

While reasonable people can disagree on what the proper level of Pentagon spending ought to be, what’s not reasonable is carrying on the disingenuous defense of the Pentagon budget at all costs.

At the end of the day, Ryan’s budget is, of course, mainly political theater. It’s a wish list. And if the best the Republicans can wish for is a budget that weds itself to wasteful Pentagon spending while only barely slowing the growth of entitlements, Republicans – and the country – are in poor shape indeed.

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