Ryan Budget Calls for Return to Pre-Sequester Defense Spending

Budget chairman cuts overall spending below sequester totals, but he takes from nondefense to boost defense spending beyond Obama.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
April 1, 2014, 6:39 a.m.

House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an laid out a budget vis­ion Tues­day that goes bey­ond Pres­id­ent Obama’s re­quest by ramp­ing up de­fense spend­ing bey­ond the caps in 2016 and restor­ing them by 2017.

Ry­an does this by tak­ing from the nondefense side of the ledger and still re­du­cing over­all fed­er­al spend­ing bey­ond what is con­tem­plated un­der the total se­quester caps.

“This budget re­jects the pres­id­ent’s cuts to na­tion­al se­cur­ity.”¦ It also keeps faith with the vet­er­ans who have served and pro­tec­ted the na­tion,” de­clares the Ry­an budget, which in­creases de­fense spend­ing above what Pres­id­ent Obama has called for by $273 bil­lion over the 10-year budget win­dow.

“The first job of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is se­cur­ing the safety and liberty of its cit­izens from threats at home and abroad,” Ry­an’s budget pro­claims, list­ing na­tion­al de­fense at the top of its budget break­down.

“This budget provides for the best equip­ment, train­ing, and com­pens­a­tion for their con­tin­ued suc­cess.”

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an’s budget, like Obama’s, sticks to the de­fense spend­ing caps agreed to un­der last year’s Bi­par­tis­an Budget Act of $521 bil­lion for dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing for fisc­al 2015.

And it is im­port­ant to note that for fisc­al 2015, Obama tech­nic­ally is call­ing for more for de­fense, be­cause his budget asks for an ad­di­tion­al $28 bil­lion for de­fense spend­ing as part of a so-called op­por­tun­ity fund that Con­gress would have to ap­prove through a series of oth­er policy changes, in­clud­ing tax in­creases that are un­likely to be ad­op­ted.

Al­though neither Obama nor Ry­an sticks to the de­fense se­quester caps in 2016 and bey­ond, start­ing in fisc­al 2016 Ry­an’s budget starts in­creas­ing de­fense spend­ing bey­ond what Obama calls for, every year through 2024.

For ex­ample, in fisc­al 2017 Ry­an’s budget asks for $590 bil­lion for de­fense dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing, com­pared with the $569 bil­lion total for de­fense dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing that the pres­id­ent re­quests. The trend line con­tin­ues, with Ry­an re­quest­ing $696 bil­lion for de­fense dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing in 2024, com­pared with the $646 bil­lion that Obama has re­qeusted, after ad­just­ments based on policy changes the White House is as­sum­ing in its budget.

Ry­an does all this while still com­ing in un­der the total dis­cre­tion­ary budget caps set by the se­quester, ul­ti­mately shav­ing $308 bil­lion from the over­all fed­er­al budget caps. He does so by re­du­cing nondefense dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing by more than he is in­creas­ing de­fense spend­ing. By 2024 Ry­an is adding $483 bil­lion to de­fense spend­ing bey­ond what the se­quester would al­low and cut­ting $791 bil­lion from nondefense dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing se­quester caps in or­der to achieve over­all sav­ings to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

De­fense-budget ana­lysts were quick to put the Ry­an budget in con­text — it’s a mes­sage piece that, like the pres­id­ent’s budget, has next to no chance of be­com­ing law.

“This is just an­oth­er mark­er in the de­bate,” said Todd Har­ris­on, a seni­or fel­low in de­fense-budget stud­ies at the Cen­ter for Stra­tegic and Budget­ary As­sess­ments.

Har­ris­on said it is im­port­ant to un­der­stand that Ry­an’s budget res­ol­u­tion might not pass the House, and has no chance of be­ing re­con­ciled with the Sen­ate — which has said it is not put­ting out a budget pro­pos­al — and does not have the teeth of an ap­pro­pri­ations bill.

“So all it is is a mark­er to give an in­dic­a­tion of where the House thinks vari­ous spend­ing levels ought to be. It does not mean that we will end up there in any way, shape, or form, even if they can get it to pass the House, which is not a giv­en,” Har­ris­on ad­ded. “It doesn’t mean too much, it’s just an in­dic­a­tion of the party’s po­s­i­tion.”

Oth­er budget ana­lysts said the key takeaway is that both Obama and fisc­al con­ser­vat­ives be­lieve that the de­fense se­quester cuts go too far in re­strict­ing fund­ing for na­tion­al de­fense.

“Ry­an’s budget — in fol­low­ing the pres­id­ent’s — shows that there is bi­par­tis­an con­sensus that the de­fense se­quester cuts re­main too deep, which is a sens­ible be­lief be­cause that part of the budget — like do­mest­ic dis­cre­tion­ary — is not a driver of our long-term debt,” said Shai Aka­bas, an as­so­ci­ate dir­ect­or of eco­nom­ic policy with the Bi­par­tis­an Policy Cen­ter.

Wheth­er this agree­ment will change the tra­ject­ory of de­fense spend­ing is un­clear. Demo­crats are un­likely to go along with Ry­an’s plan of sac­ri­fi­cing nondefense dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing in or­der to in­crease de­fense spend­ing.

The Ry­an budget does not break down the na­tion­al de­fense budget in­to spe­cif­ics, such as how much would go to, say, the De­fense De­part­ment versus the atom­ic en­ergy de­fense activ­it­ies of the En­ergy De­part­ment.

But for 2015 in total, his budget res­ol­u­tion calls for $528.9 bil­lion in budget au­thor­ity and $566.5 bil­lion in out­lays in fisc­al 2015 for na­tion­al de­fense. Of that, dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing totals $521.3 bil­lion in budget au­thor­ity and $558.8 bil­lion in out­lays. Man­dat­ory spend­ing is $7.7 bil­lion in out­lays. The 10-year total for budget au­thor­ity and out­lays are $6.3 tril­lion and $6.2 tril­lion, re­spect­ively.

Ry­an boasts that his budget sticks to the budget caps from last year’s Bi­par­tis­an Budget Act ap­proved by the House and Sen­ate and signed in­to law by Obama in Decem­ber.

“This is the amount provided for in the Bi­par­tis­an Budget Act,” ac­cord­ing to the budget doc­u­ment.

In the budget, Ry­an cri­ti­cizes the fact that over the last five years, DOD has re­peatedly re­vised down its es­tim­ates of its budget­ary re­sources ne­ces­sary to meet the na­tion’s se­cur­ity needs. He es­sen­tially ad­mon­ishes the pres­id­ent for try­ing to cut de­fense spend­ing, not­ing that in the pres­id­ent’s 2014 budget, the re­quest is ap­prox­im­ately $184 bil­lion lower than the Budget Con­trol Act’s pre-se­quester caps.

Ry­an’s budget says that the de­fense pro­gram con­tin­ues to be un­der-re­sourced and that the most re­cent Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice re­port found that last year’s DOD de­fense pro­gram re­quest was, on av­er­age, $33 bil­lion short of provid­ing for the full costs of the pro­gram es­tim­ated by CBO.

“Today in U.S. de­fense policy there are two big mis­matches,” the Ry­an budget says. “First between the threats we face and the re­sources we’ve com­mit­ted to meet­ing them, and second between our stated policy and the budget the pres­id­ent has re­ques­ted.”

It adds, “This budget seeks to re­solve these con­tra­dic­tions by restor­ing de­fense budgets to to the levels dic­tated by the na­tion­al se­cur­ity in­terests of the na­tion.”

Ry­an’s budget says Obama’s troop-re­duc­tion re­quest is too severe and calls for ad­di­tion­al re­sources for troops bey­ond what Obama re­ques­ted, without provid­ing spe­cif­ic de­tails on costs.

Un­der last year’s budget agree­ment between Ry­an and Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray, Con­gress agreed to provide $9 bil­lion in re­lief from the budget se­quester for de­fense in fisc­al 2015.

The se­quester is one of the biggest budget chal­lenges plaguing the De­fense De­part­ment. A re­per­cus­sion of the Au­gust 2011 debt-ceil­ing stan­doff, the se­quester slashed $1.2 tril­lion in spend­ing over 10 years and was es­tab­lished as a way to force Con­gress to come up with more tar­geted de­fi­cit-re­duc­tion plans. But Con­gress seems in­cap­able of agree­ing on a com­pre­hens­ive re­place­ment, and al­though they did lessen its im­pact for fisc­al 2014 and 2015, they also ex­ten­ded the se­quester an­oth­er two years.

Last year, Ry­an’s budget took a sim­il­ar tack with de­fense spend­ing. It called for $560.2 bil­lion in de­fense spend­ing for fisc­al 2014, which he called “con­sist­ent with our re­spons­ib­il­it­ies.”

The Ry­an budget noted that the pro­pos­al was “sig­ni­fic­antly less than the levels in pre­vi­ous budget res­ol­u­tions,” but it boas­ted that it was roughly $500 bil­lion more than will be avail­able ab­sent changes in the Budget Con­trol Act.

“Our se­cur­ity is the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s top pri­or­ity,” said Ry­an’s fisc­al 2014 budget. “The budget must re­flect that fact.”

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