• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Reid's Sleight-of-Hand Debt Ceiling Plan Guts Military

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) introduced legislation to raise the debt ceiling this week. In evaluating his plans for future government spending, it becomes clear that budgeting for prudent defense is considered just another line item.

    While Americans intuitively know that national security is unlike any other category of federal spending, it is often treated with inherent bias through insider budgeting methods.

    Congress tends to selectively ignore what are called “baselines” used for comparing different spending proposals. This is convenient if a Member of Congress wants to generate more phantom cuts to appease a core audience—or, worse, to not take into account all of the military spending cuts that have taken place over the past few years.

    A prominent example of this selective ignorance by Congress is seen in Senator Reid’s legislation, where he attempts to calculate cuts, or “savings,” from funding for overseas contingency operations (OCO): operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    The Reid legislation funds America’s wars at the President’s revised requested level of $126.5 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2012. His bill then imposes a cumulative cap of $450 billion over the next nine years from FY 2013 through FY 2021. This mirrors the Administration’s placeholder amount for future war spending of $50 billion per year and bundles them together. The first gaping flaw is that no one, including Congress or the military, expects war costs to drop that significantly from $126 billion this year to just $50 billion next year.

    Some around Washington are comparing the Reid legislation allocation for war spending to what is called the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) March baseline number. They are not the same. The CBO estimates funding for OCO through 2021 using a basis of the $159 billion funding level for the current fiscal year (2011), adjusts that for inflation, and then extends it at that rate on an annual basis over 10 years.

    Whereas Reid “predicts” $50 billion for war spending 10 years from now, the CBO baseline says it will be $192 billion in FY 2021. Barring unforeseen circumstances, no one expects the figure to be that high. However, CBO is using a reasonable baseline to make future spending assumptions. More important, the CBO baseline projection allows for apples-to-apples comparisons of budget projections as part of the flurry of debt-ceiling-related spending bills—not budget gimmicks.

    Most families in America will estimate what to budget for next year relative to what they are spending this year. It’s that simple. This is essentially how the CBO baseline forecasts, except that it accounts for inflation.

    The CBO baseline is also applied to all other categories of federal spending. This is what allows policymakers to compare various spending proposals sitting on Capitol Hill.

    The problem is that this does not apply to defense. When it comes to military spending, Congress uses whatever baseline a particular Member chooses to bolster his or her individual argument for defense cuts.

    Because Congress effectively discounts the defense cuts that have been underway for years now, military spending has continued to lose ground. Defense has absorbed a lower percentage of the programmatic federal budget in every year since the end of the Cold War (FY 1992), despite the simultaneous pursuit of two major combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade.

    Bottom line: The CBO baseline is being manipulated in response to Senator Reid’s legislation. The CBO baseline says that war spending from 2012 through 2021 is $1.757 trillion. Thus, the Reid legislation is imposing a $1.18 trillion “cut” in OCO funding against the CBO baseline.

    This is an important budget distinction, because the proponents of Reid’s legislation want to leave the impression with American taxpayers that they are exercising spending restraint. But skeptics of this legislation may want to call them “phantom savings.” While this is technically accurate, even many critics fail to admit how much is being cut in defense relative to the same baseline used for all other federal spending. Why is the military being singled out?

    It is very likely that Congress would ignore the CBO baseline comparison if the Reid legislation were signed into law. Congress would implicitly deem this $1.18 trillion reduction in war spending against the old baseline to be nonexistent. Instead, the new, lower number would be considered as the revised baseline.

    Conservatives in Congress should consider this unacceptable so long as the CBO baseline comparisons serve as the starting point for proposals affecting all other categories of spending.

    Congress may choose any budget baselines it wants, but it is wrong to adopt different baseline applications for different categories of spending—particularly when it disproportionately and negatively impacts the military.

    The fact is that this selective manipulation of budget baselines is misleading the public about the extent to which the current budget process is prejudicial against defense. The American people should know that through Senator Reid’s legislation, Members of Congress are finally admitting how much it is already being cut from defense. Defense isn’t just “on the table”; it is contributing to debt reduction when no other federal agency is doing so comparably.

    America should also know that Congress fully intends to use budgetary slight of hand to avoid acknowledging what it has done and not have to answer for the consequences.

    Posted in Economics [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to Reid's Sleight-of-Hand Debt Ceiling Plan Guts Military

    1. Guest says:

      "Why is the military being singled out?" A few of my friends are working diligently to re-elect President Obama. When I ask why, the singlemost agreed upon opinion is that the US military/industrial complex must be stopped; they each cite the same statistics about how many bases there are worldwide and question why we need these. The 2012 Obama campaign has made our military defense spending a rally point in their effort to organize at the grass roots level; our dominance in the world is a sore source of embarrassment for these liberals and they firmly believe we need to cut defense funding. These friends of mine would never read this article or consider the actual numbers. Reid knows full well what he is doing; he is recruiting support among liberals, liberal leaning independents, and even some guilt-ridden Republicans for the re-election of the President and doing it effectively. We need to elect more conservative representatives and senators at local, state, and federal levels in 2012. We must be as focused as Senator Reid. If the current Republicans in power in our House and Senate don't understand the game, we will elect people who do.

    2. Stirling says:

      It's not surprising that Reid would cut defense. It's been democrats policy that social welfare programs and accompanying moral arguements is what they are concerned about. The Military is just a pawn for most democrats when they need it for political gain. The shortsightedness of democrats on the military rather then long term security has always been a fault.

    3. carol,az says:

      He got there off the backs of the Chamber of Commerce lobbyists and the ACLU working together to keep NV as an open border state.. That's why out West, he's called Hotel Harry Reid. He's as dirty as the cartel operatives that are operational throughout all open border states.
      CA and NV have promises to keep.
      Do I have to list why?

    4. len says:

      When we have no defense or military capable of defending our nanny state as hapless harry wants, then who will defend us???? There will be no need for a congress or president as we will sucumb to our enemies and be enslaved. Sound familiar to history???

    5. Lanker Pheldge says:

      Clinton did the same thing. I remember following 9/11 when it was announced that our Ranger regiment stationed at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, would deploy immediately for Afghanistan. Military spending had been so drastically cut that our Rangers didn't even have sufficient ammunition for their sidearms. So a bunch of them ravaged the countryside and bought up every 9 mm round at every Wal-Mart they could find. Thank God for Wal-Mart, huh? Our Democrat federal government couldn't supply our best combat troops with ammunition, so Wal-Mart filled the bill instead. Probably one more reason the left hates Wal-Mart with the venom they do.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.