Ted Cruz wants a Pentagon bigger than what America can afford

By Matt Purple, February 18, 2016

Senator Ted Cruz called for more military spending in South Carolina yesterday after swaggering out to a podium on an aircraft carrier (isn’t that considered a bad omen by now?). The Texas senator said as president he would increase the number of active-duty personnel, swell the Air Force with more planes, and bolster the Navy. He also strummed a few libertarian notes, pledging to audit the Pentagon and forswearing nation building.

When it comes to the defense budget, there are questions of how much spending we need and how much spending we can afford. Kevin Boyd already explored the former at Rare earlier this morning, so I’d like to focus on the latter. What does our current fiscal picture allow us to do? How many more defense dollars can we allot?

First, let’s wrap our minds around the magnitude of Cruz’s proposal, which would spend 4 percentof the nation’s GDP on military spending, or $718 billion last year. Not even George W. Bush imagined a military that big—between 2004 and 2008, during the height of the war on Iraq, the military budget was 3.8 percent of GDP. In 2007, President Bush requested $481.4 billion for the Defense Department. Even if you throw in the additional $142 billion on overseas war spending, that still amounts to almost $100 billion less than what Cruz is demanding. And that was at a time when America was bogged down in two very active ground wars.

So Cruz’s proposal is audacious, especially when you consider that the United States is already spending more on its base defense budget than even in 2007. The notion of an American military crumbling into the ground under President Obama is a total fiction. What has happened is that the military hasn’t gotten as much as it wants. The main reason for that are the caps established under the Budget Control Act (BCA) that limit how much defense spending can be hiked every year without sequestration kicking in.

Despite endless moaning about how the sequester is carving up our military, the BCA only required actual spending reductions over its first two years, and most of those were relieved under that shimmering paragon of bipartisanship, the Ryan-Murray budget deal. From here on out, only cuts to the projected rate of spending are required, which is to say, no cuts at all.

The maximum base defense budget allowed under the BCA this year is $499 billion, about $35 billion less than the Pentagon wanted. That number would have been perfectly achievable had Congress, you know, done its job, set priorities, and cut the waste in the Defense Department. Complying with the caps through targeted cuts would have avoided the much broader fiscal guillotine of the sequester, which chops across the board.

Better yet, Congress could have called in the appropriators, weeded through the budget, and located the $1.5 trillion in net deficit reduction required by the BCA. It was the supercommittee’s failure to hash out those cuts that triggered the threat of sequestration in the first place. But that would mean making difficult decisions, and why do that when the can is sitting right there and begging to be kicked?

So the problem is one of Congress flouting its responsibilities, not President Obama dancing around the Pentagon with a set of hedge trimmers. Ted Cruz used to understand all this. He supported the initial sequester as a last resort and opposed the Ryan-Murray deal that soothed its most painful measures.

Now he’s trashing Obama for a military downsize he’s blown out of proportion via the same spending caps that he endorsed. He’s calling for a military that wildly exceeds what America can afford. He’s running mendacious ads about phantom base cuts in South Carolina. And he’s paying only lip service to offsetting costs and tackling bureaucracy. All this at a time when our debt is off the charts and the deficit is projected to rise.

This is not the Ted Cruz we know and love.

Matt Purple is a fellow at Defense Priorities and deputy editor at Rare Politics.

This article was originally published by Rare on February 18, 2016. Read more HERE.

Photo courtesy Gage Skidmore.