The Republicans' Cynical Defense Budget

By Rep. Chris Van Hollen

We must continue to support a strong military that is second to none. It is our obligation to provide our men and women in uniform with the training and equipment they need to successfully carry out the missions our country gives them. 

However, the strength and security of our country doesn’t rest with the military alone.  It includes homeland security, law enforcement, and diplomatic operations.  And, most important of all, it requires a strong and growing economy that enables the country to support these activities.

Unlike the President’s budget, which took a balanced approach to providing for our security, House Republicans put forward a cynical, unrealistic, and unbalanced plan that slashes essential investments necessary for the country to successfully compete in the world economy.  The Republican budget inflates defense funding above what the Pentagon proposes, but triples the sequester cuts to the parts of our budget that fund education, infrastructure, and life-saving medical research.

All told, their plan would cut nondefense discretionary programs by $1.3 trillion between 2016 and 2024, or 24 percent below the amount needed just to stay at 2014 funding levels adjusted for inflation.  And while congressional Republicans try to play hide the ball with the specifics, you can’t cut $1.3 trillion and provide for veterans, secure our borders, maintain security at the nation’s airports, prepare first responders, protect the food supply, and secure our embassies while also making necessary investments to grow our economy and keep America competitive in the global economy.

Democrats aren’t the only ones that believe the Pentagon needs to tighten its belt.  There is widespread agreement that the defense budget must be part of the discussion as we get our fiscal house in order.  This includes the military itself.  Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen pointed out that over the last decade, when defense funding nearly doubled, the permissive defense budget “hasn’t forced us to make the hard trades. It hasn’t forced us to prioritize. It hasn’t forced us to do the analysis.”

The President’s budget recognizes the defense budget needs to be reformed but that sequester cuts levels go too far.  It adds $209 billion above sequester levels for defense over ten years. His budget also includes an additional $28 billion above the Bipartisan Budget Act level for 2015 – the level Chairman Paul Ryan played a leading role in negotiating.  Over ten years, the President’s budget includes nearly $6 trillion in defense spending—a figure that excludes the costs of operations in Afghanistan.  By 2019, which is the end of the Pentagon’s Future Years Defense Plan, defense spending will still be robust by historical standards.  After taking into account inflation, 2019 spending will be 27 percent higher than it was in 2001.

If Republicans believe defense funding levels are dangerously low, they should be clamoring to continue budget negotiations to further relieve the sequester for 2015.  The President gave them the opening by not only proposing an increase in funding, but fully paying for that proposal. Once again, Republicans face the question – are they more interested in protecting tax breaks for millionaires than protecting spending for our national security?  The answer is clear. Republicans talk big about defense, but they just don’t want to pay for it.

In order to make the investments needed to keep the foundation of our security strong—the economy—and fund an effective and comprehensive national security strategy, we have to have a balanced plan and one that incorporates shared responsibility.  Unfortunately, the Republican budget fails that basic test.

Chris Van Hollen represents Maryland's Eighth Congressional District and serves as ranking member of the House Budget Committee.

See Rep. Paul Ryan's article on the defense budget, "A Clear Choice on Defense." 

Rep. Chris Van Hollen
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