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If you’ve been fretting about faltering math education and falling test scores here in the United States, you should be worried based on this campaign season of Republican math. When it comes to the American military, the leading Republican presidential candidates evidently only learned to add and multiply, never subtract or divide.
Advocates of Pentagon reform have criticized President Obama for his timid approach to reducing military spending. Despite current Pentagon budgets that have hovered at the highest levels since World War II and thirteen years of steady growth, the administration’s latest plans would only reduce spending at the Department of Defense by 1.6 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars over the next five years.
Still, compared to his main Republican opponents, Obama is a T. rex of budget slashers. After all, despite their stated commitment to reducing the deficit (while cutting taxes on the rich yet more), the Republican contenders are intent on raising Pentagon spending dramatically. Mitt Romney has staked out the “high ground” in the latest round of Republican math with a proposal to set Pentagon spending at 4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That would, in fact add up to an astonishing $8.3 trillion dollars over the next decade, one-third more than current, already bloated Pentagon plans.
Nathan Hodge of the Wall Street Journal engaged in polite understatement when he described the Romney plan as “the most optimistic forecast US defense manufacturers have heard in months.”
In fact, Romney’s proposal implies that the Pentagon is essentially an entitlement program that should receive a set share of our total economic resources regardless of what’s happening here at home or elsewhere on the planet. In Romney World, the Pentagon’s only role would be to engorge itself. If the GDP were to drop, it’s unlikely that, as president, he would reduce Pentagon spending accordingly.
Rick Santorum has spent far less time describing his military spending plans, but a remark at a Republican presidential debate in Arizona suggests that he is at least on the same page with Romney. In 1958, the year he was born, Santorum pointed out, Pentagon spending was 60 percent of the federal budget, and now it’s “only” 17 percent. In other words, why cut military spending when it’s so comparatively low?
Of course, this is a classic bait-and-switch case of cherry-picking numbers, since the federal budget of 1958 didn’t include Medicare, Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The population was 100 million less than it is now, resulting in lower spending across the board, most notably for Social Security. In fact, Americans now pay out nearly twice as much for military purposes as in 1958, a sum well in excess of the combined military budgets of the next ten largest spending nations.