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Romney, Republicans Demonstrate Hypocrisy In Opposition To Sequestration Cuts

From the time that the ink was dry on the deal to raise the debt ceiling was done just about a year ago, the calls began for Congress to start undoing the deal. Chief among the objections were the second round of budget cuts that were put into the deal that would take effect in January 2013 unless Congress was able to reach a deal through the so-called “SuperCommittee” process. The Pentagon immediately started saying that the cuts would be devastating to the defense budget and the defense hawks in Congress, principally people like the Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee and Senators such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham quickly joined them in the doom and gloom. In reality, of course, the cuts to the defense budget, which represent 50% of the total agreed upon cuts, would come nowhere close to devastating the defense budget. Facts don’t really matter in these debates, though, and when the SuperCommittee failed to reach an agreement by it’s November 2011 deadline, the drumbeat of calls to suspend the sequestration cuts began, mostly from Republicans. Now, it looks like Mitt Romney is joining them:

NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) — Mitt Romney says Congress and the president should delay looming cuts in military and domestic spending for at least one year.

The Republican presidential contender said Friday during a campaign trip to Las Vegas that the cuts would be “terrible,” particularly for the military.

(…)

Romney says he wants President Barack Obama and lawmakers to work together to put, in his words, “a year’s runway,” in place to give the next president time to reform the tax system and ensure the military’s needs are met.

Here’s exactly what Romney said, as reported by Time’s Mark Halperin:

“Well, let’s go back first to the sequestration. I would like to see the President and Congress come together and say we’re going to put a year’s runway from where we are right now, through the next several months, into the term of the next president, hopefully me, but if not me, President Obama, and give me or the next president the capacity to reform our tax system and make sure that our military plans are consistent with the needs of American leadership. I think the idea of massive cuts to our military is a terrible idea. It is going to cause layoffs. It’s going to cause the cessation of various programs essential to American workers and, I presume, to our defense capabilities as well. The Secretary of Defense called these cuts “disastrous.” And, so, I think the Congress and the President, clearly – with the President’s leadership, he should step forward and say, look, these sequestration cuts are unacceptable. The kinds of cuts to our military are unacceptable and the uncertainty caused by the tax changes – some call it a tax cliff or Taxmaggedon – these things don’t help the American economy. We need to have stability here so let’s have at least a year of runway or even six months of runway after the new president is elected so we can have the tax reform and the military spending plans and the budget plans that are consistent with that individual self-leadership and views.”

You’ll notice that Romney only talks about the defense side of the sequestration cuts rather than the cuts in general. That’s because it’s really only the defense cuts that the hawks in the GOP care about. They repeat, mindlessly, the claim that the cuts will put America’s national security at risk despite the fact that, even after the cuts are taken into account, the United States will still spend more on its military than any other country in the world by orders of magnitude. Additionally, the cuts themselves have been blatantly misrepresented in regard to how they would actually impact defense spending. And, finally, the concerns over the long term impact on the defense budget are largely misplaced, as Cato’s Christopher Preble explains:

[T]here’s little likelihood that sequestration will significantly reduce the defense budget long term. That’s because sequestration cuts the defense budget only in the first year. Every year after that, defense spending will increase. Spending levels will indeed be lower than the Pentagon last year expected them to be. But only in Washington is that considered a cut. So, under sequestration, instead of spending $5.7 trillion on defense over the next decade, as the FY2013 budget suggests, the government will spend about $5.2 trillion.

That $500 billion difference may not actually materialize. Congress has a few options to mitigate the effects of the initial $55 billion slice off the budget. They could reprogram funds after the sequester, change the definition of “programs, projects and activities” (the budget level at which the cuts are implemented), or take advantage of the flexibility within operations and maintenance (O&M) funds. In fact, because the Office of Management and Budget has declared that war spending is eligible to be sequestered, the total cuts to O&M can be spread out across a bigger pot of money. Beyond all that, sequestration does not affect outlays or funds already obligated, which means it will not affect existing contracts. So, the real story is that should sequestration actually happen, Congress and the Pentagon will have much more flexibility than they’re willing to admit.

Preble discusses sequestration in more detail in this video:

The opponents of the defense sequestration cuts have shifted there arguments significantly in recent months, thanks in part to all the on going talk about the “Fiscal Cliff” that has been a hot topic in Washington circles for months now. Now, they’re arguing, with the helpful assistance of defense industry lobbyists that we need to halt the sequestration cuts in order to preserve jobs. It’s quite a tempting argument. Here we are in the middle of a very weak economy that keeps threatening to dip back into recession and these smart sounding analysts are telling us that allowing these defense cuts to go through is going to cause millions of people to lose their jobs. It’s a smart play by the lobbyists, really, because if you’re not a defense hawk you certainly want to think of yourself as someone who doesn’t want to cause people to get fired, right? Well, as I said several weeks ago, there’s a big flaw in that argument:

[W]e need to stop looking at the Defense Department budget, or indeed any Federal spending, as a jobs program. The purpose of defense spending should be to provide an adequate defense to defend the national interests of the United States. Once of the main reasons that defense spending has grown so much over the past decades has been the fact that it was viewed by Congress as a way to pass out pork to their districts and states. Indeed, there’s been more than one example over the years of a weapon’s program that the Pentagon doesn’t even really want, but which it is forced to accept because Congress insists on funding it, often for reason that have next to nothing to do with national defense and a whole lot to do with getting re-elected. Until an independent commission was established, it was next to impossible to shut down or reduce the size of a military base anywhere in the United States because Members of Congress would work together to prevent closure. Their constituents liked it, I’m sure, but it wasn’t doing the country any good, and the same goes for spending money on the military not because we need it for our defense, but because a Congressman doesn’t want to get his constituents, or his donors, angry at him.

In a post today, Preble presents a far more interesting argument that the defense sequestration cuts will be good for the economy:

In a new paper released today, economist Benjamin Zycher outlines some of the economic rationales for such cuts. He shows that cuts on the order of $100 billion per year over ten years can be reasonably expected to reduce economic costs by $135 billion — provided that the funds are redirected to the private sector and not simply plowed into other government spending. Zycher concedes that the demand for U.S. military spending has declined, and its value (measured in what we actually spend) should also decline. At a minimum, he concludes, “These potential savings in real resources are sufficiently large to justify a detailed analysis of U.S. national security needs and the outlays required to defend them.”

(…)

The conceptual problem of proclaiming that defense spending is good for the economy, and cuts are bad, flows logically from the different assumptions about the multiplier. Fuller and others focus narrowly on the particular industries either affected by cuts. But these cuts should free up resources elsewhere. To be sure, there are likely to be temporary dislocations for some workers and businesses. These will be difficult for the individuals and firms affected, but the economy as a whole will benefit as skills and resources are redirected to more productive activities.

These conclusions shouldn’t really surprise, and they should be common-sense for Republicans who are generally skeptical of Keynesian arguments for using government spending to stimulate the economy. After all, every dollar spent by the government — federal, state or local — is extracted from the private sector. Advocates for higher taxes and more government spending claim that individuals in Congress, state capitols and city halls are wise enough to know where these resources should be spent. Conservatives and libertarians point out that this attempt to pick winners and losers will fail more often than it succeeds, and the net result is a less productive economy. The principle applies equally when the money is spent by government agency A (e.g. the Department of Agriculture) vs. government agency B (e.g. the Department of Defense).

What Preble’s comment here really does, of course, is demonstrate the hypocrisy of many Republican lawmakers when it comes to spending cuts. They talk a good game about fiscal responsibility and how everyone is going to need to sacrifice something to get our fiscal house in order. When the rubber meets the road, though, and the tough decisions actually have to be made all they come up with is nonsense. There’s the phony earmarks battle, which accounts for an incredibly infinitesimal part of the Federal Budget. There are the constant calls to cut out “waste and abuse.” There are attacks on those tiny, tiny parts of the budget that fund scientific research, NPR, and other such things. All of those are legitimate targets, but none of them amount to a hill of beans when you’re talking about a $3 trillion budget, and when it comes to the big targets, like the defense budget, many of these “budget hawks” suddenly becomes doves, perhaps because many of them have campaign coffers generously filled by the defense industry. In fact, I will be so bold as to say that if you are a Republican who regularly campaigns on the issue of fiscal responsibility, like much of the House GOP caucus does and like Mitt Romney does, and you oppose the sequestration guts, then you are nothing more than a hypocrite.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CB says:

    Stop carrying water for Romney, Doug.

    And god forbid we drop from 48% to 46% of all global military spending. That would be devastating. Is devastating the right word?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 7

  2. Shorter GOP: We have no problem with Keynesian economics as long as the money is going to people that give us a lot of campaign donations.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 1

  3. @CB:

    I’m calling him a hypocrite. How is that carrying water?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 0

  4. Vast Variety says:

    Our defense budget should only be about 10% higher than that of China or Russia. The money saved if we did that could go to cover tax cuts to everyone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Sun rises in east and earth orbits around sun.

    That aside, there’s as much naivete afoot as there is hypocrisy. Republicans actually believed there would be a budget deal. No, seriously, they actually believed that. Democrats played them like violins. The GOP fell for it. Now they’re in full scramble and backtrack mode. C’est la vie.

    Regarding the larger issue, what and how much to cut, there’s no doubt that DOD needs to be brought down to its proper size and that the likes of this Preble character literally are smoking crack. There’s plenty of fat that can be carved out of DOD’s budget. There are plenty of friendly nations to which the various defense contractors can export their products and services. To say that DOD spending is sacrosanct is as much of an absurdity as to say that AFDC and Medicaid spending are sacrosanct. The entire federal government needs to be reined in, DOD included.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 12

  6. We should be looking at cuts in everything, including the military, and look to optimize the spending to reduce waste.

    But, without trying to threadjack, more hypocrisy by Doug, who made a big deal out of Team Romney taunting Obama by driving the bus around his supporters, yet, fails to call out Team Obama for following Team Mitt around in a bus to harass them http://thehill.com/blogs/twitter-room/other-news/242897-democrats-park-romney-economics-bus-outside-gop-building

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  7. stonetools says:

    Republicans: ” But-But, we don’t want to cut military spending. We only want to cut gumint spending.”

    For the Republicans, military spending is somehow not part of government spending, but is a separate, holy thing that can only be increased, never decreased. Government spending, on the other hand, involves taking “our” hard earned dollars and giving them to “those people” . Government spending should and even must be cut.

    The Republicans have always been dishonest about government spending. They have to be, to hold on to their no-tax increase dogma.The sequestration debate will just make their hypocrisy evident .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  8. Vast Variety says:

    According to Wikipedia Chian spent 143 Billion. So that means our military would get like 157.3 Billion. I’d even go $200 Billion to be generious. That means the extra 511 Billion the pentagon is spending in FY2012 could have been used for tax cuts. You could even take half of that and dump it into Social Security and Medicare and still given out a 255.5 Billion dollar tax cut.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. C. Clavin says:

    Republicans are fiscal frauds. When have they ever reduced spending or shrunk Government?
    The Romney/Ryan budget plan is a mathematical impossibility…which means…ipso facto…it will increase the deficit.
    Republicans have done everything in their power to hold back this recovery.
    Obama offered the biggest debt reduction bill IN HISTORY and Republicans walked away.
    If you are truly a conservative Obama is the only candidate in this race you can vote for.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  10. Rob in CT says:

    Duh. Of course they would do this. The GOP doesn’t mind government spending. They mind government spending money on THOSE PEOPLE (usually poor people, but more generally anyone group they figure will vote Dem).

    I’d give Doug a cookie, but this is so cut and dried I’m not sure it’s really cookie-worthy. It’s sort of like posting water is wet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  11. CB says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I was just being facetious. It seems to be in fashion lately to accuse you of carrying his water, even when you’re obviously not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  12. Sorry I missed the sarcasm. Too early in the morning

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  13. grumpy realist says:

    Bravo, Doug. Yeah, I wonder how much better off we would be if we cut the Defense budget by two thirds and dumped the rest into infrastructure and basic research.

    Military spending is one of the most inefficient ways to stimulate the economy. Nor do I think that the Reason For Being for America is to provide an incessant cash flow to a bunch of defense contractors. If we continue on this trend, we’re going to end up with a country that has shiny military jets and rockets while the rest of the US tries to run an economy over non-existent roads and collapsed bridges.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  14. We’ve had many chances to be real, and many chances to kick the can. Every time, we’ve kicked. I think the last big opportunity was the Grand Bargain negotiations, and had Obama and Boehner been backed by their parties, they would have done it. No question though that Boehner had more disruptive elements to deal with. Understatement. Boehner had people explicitly calling for a budget crash. Nitwits (see above) will say the Democrats somehow engineered that failure, but no.

    I guess the interesting thing now is that lack of discipline impacts the Romney campaign. Suddenly the Republicans make spending arguments that are just like the positions they are supposed to oppose.

    It’s pretty transparent, that government should shrink, spending is the problem, unless its defense offense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  15. (I think my sleepy realization this morning is the key. There is no reason for a defense budget to be this large. On the other hand, an offense budget must be.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  16. @grumpy realist:

    f we continue on this trend, we’re going to end up with a country that has shiny military jets and rockets while the rest of the US tries to run an economy over non-existent roads and collapsed bridges

    Collapsed bridges over dead rivers.

    North American freshwater fishes race to extinction

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  17. Rob in CT says:

    @john personna:

    You just figured out that the “Defense” budget is really an Offense budget?

    Power Projection ain’t cheap.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. @Rob in CT:

    I was just thinking about it. There were people in the 80’s who would tell us that US bases overseas were all about the imperialism. It rang hollow for me then. For the most part people on those bases waited around and did nothing.

    I’d say post-Vietnam and pre-Iraq the force projections were brief and to the point. They were pretty much non-imperial.

    We know the neo-cons wanted to change that explicitly. They failed, officially, but we can’t quite shape their game-plan. Not quite yet.

    And of course Romney seems to be pretty neo-con friendly, and ready for a return to that newly explicit imperialism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  19. steve says:

    Those voting for Mitt this year need to overlook the fact that since the era of the conservative GOP president, they have not cut spending, just taxes. They need to convince themselves that this time is different. Knowing what Mitt is already saying about spending cuts, I think it should be hard to believe it will really happen this time.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. Robert Levine says:

    Yes, Republicans are hypocritical over this issue. And yes, we spend far more on the military than is needed for “defense.” But that doesn’t mean that Romney is wrong. Most economists would agree, I believe, that a major drag on this recovery has been the unprecedented shrinkage of government payrolls at all levels of government. Further pulling the rug out from under a recovery that’s still struggling – either by ending all the Bush tax cuts on 12/31/12 or by significant cuts in defense spending – risks repeating the failed austerity experiment in the UK (not to mention Spain). I put as much faith in an “impartial” economic analysis from Cato as I would in an auction run by the tooth fairy.

    On the other hand, it’s not clear why the next president and the next Congress would be able to deal with the need to bring the Federal budget into better long-term balance any better than was done last year.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. @Robert Levine:

    What makes Romney wrong is that if you are going for growth, you target the highest fiscal multiplier.

    You don’t justify your pet spending by saying “it has a multiplier.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. C. Clavin says:

    @ Steve…

    “…They need to convince themselves that this time is different….”

    You mean lie to themselves that it is going to be different, right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. legion says:

    @Robert Levine: You’re not wrong about the complete and utter failure of austerity in Europe (as anyone with a lick of sense expected), but cutting down on bloated acquisition programs for things we don’t actually need and contracts with no management, no oversight, no top-end, and no bidding is not the same as reducing gov’t payrolls…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  24. al-Ameda says:

    Republicans are not serious about fiscal responsibility. They have been however, very serious about winning the White House and taking over the Senate in 2012.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  25. anjin-san says:

    @ stonetools

    It’s too bad you missed the classic thread where bithead argued long and hard that the military is not party of the federal government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. anjin-san says:

    f we continue on this trend, we’re going to end up with a country that has shiny military jets and rockets while the rest of the US tries to run an economy over non-existent roads and collapsed bridges

    A third world nation with a lot of nukes. Ask the Soviets how well that worked out for them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. C. Clavin says:

    But….the Government doesn’t create jobs.
    But, but…if we cut the military it’s going to cut jobs.
    But, but, but…

    And hence the reason you cannot have a discussion about economics with a Republican.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  28. @C. Clavin:

    If you are truly a conservative Obama is the only candidate in this race you can vote for.

    I’m quite happy voting for Gary Johnson, thank you very much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. george says:

    @anjin-san:

    @ stonetools

    It’s too bad you missed the classic thread where bithead argued long and hard that the military is not party of the federal government.

    You’re just making that up, right? Or was the military privatized when I wasn’t looking?

    Or was his track that its somehow state rather than federal?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. jukeboxgrad says:

    A third world nation with a lot of nukes.

    Military power is grounded in economic power, and economic power is grounded in education, health and infrastructure. A country that doesn’t invest in those things is destined for economic weakness and ultimately military weakness. But of course those are the things the gilded class wants to cut so they can spend more money on dancing horses and car elevators. And the country rotting around them is not a problem because they have plenty of places to hide.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  31. @jukeboxgrad:

    The most recent round of national polling seems to show that the negative attacks on Romney are having an impact.

    We are still strong in those areas though.

    Doug gets accused of resting on the fainting couch … people who seriously think we are at risk of 3rd world status have joined him there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  32. anjin-san says:

    You’re just making that up, right?

    Oh, no, it was real. A classic if there ever was one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. jukeboxgrad says:

    people who seriously think we are at risk of 3rd world status

    It’s hyperbole, but the basic point is sound. Other countries are already ahead of us in important ways.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. @jukeboxgrad:

    Other countries are already ahead of us in important ways.

    US GDP is north of $14 trillion. No one else breaks $6 trillion.

    Where we face competition it is from cheaper natural resources or cheaper labor.

    I’m afraid that you are going to have to reach for an obscure “important” way to make that work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  35. jukeboxgrad says:

    I’m talking about things like quality of life. For example, there shouldn’t be 36 countries that beat us on life expectancy. There’s a problem when 28 cities outside the US have better quality of life than any US city (link).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  36. john personna says:

    @jukeboxgrad:

    The claim was 3rd world. Our health care is expense and incomplete, but to call it 3rdis world is pure fainting couch.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0