A Clear Choice on Defense

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The world is less safe when America doesn’t lead. But for President Obama, this lesson has yet to sink in. In February, he offered a budget that would cut crucial funding for our national security. So tomorrow, House Republicans will pass a budget that would give our troops the funding they need.

First, let’s put things in perspective: For decades, defense spending made up roughly 50 percent of the federal budget. Today, it’s just 18 percent. And if we stay on the current path, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that defense will fall below 10 percent by 2024.

The reason? Entitlement programs and interest payments are growing out of control. Government spending on health care is set to skyrocket. Interest payments are projected to quadruple over the next decade.

But the Obama administration sees no need for alarm. Year after year, his administration has cut defense spending, all while the world has grown more dangerous. And rather than confront the entitlement challenge, he’s creating new open-ended spending programs and attacking our good-faith reform efforts.

Over the last five years, the Obama administration has asked for progressively fewer resources to support our national security. In 2011, then-secretary Bob Gates proposed a $178 billion “efficiency initiative.” In 2011, the President announced a further $400 billion reduction that grew to $487 billion in his 2012 budget request. In 2013, Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed yet another $120 billion reduction from the Budget Control Act’s “pre-sequester” caps. And this year, the President’s request is now about $184 billion lower than those caps.

These cuts have real-world consequences. If we adopted the President’s budget, the Army would shrink to its smallest size since World War II, the Navy to its smallest size since World War I, and the Air Force to its smallest size ever. Half of our cruiser fleet would be in dry dock. We would have to retire both the A-10 and U-2. And we would have just ten carrier strike groups.

And these deep cuts don’t help pay down the debt. Instead the President would use them to fuel more domestic spending. And despite $1.8 trillion in tax increases, the President’s budget never comes close to balance.

The House Republican budget would change course. Over the next ten years, it would commit more resources to our national security—in fact, $274 billion more than the President’s request. The House GOP plan would give our troops the equipment, training, and compensation they need, and unlike the President’s request, it would meet our first duty in full.

Under our plan, the army could maintain its current strength. We could have eleven carriers and a full cruiser fleet. Key modernization programs—like the Joint Strike Fighter—would stay on track. And again, we fully fund the veterans’ budget.

We’re able to meet these commitments because we grapple seriously with the need for reform. We stop wasteful Washington spending. We root out cronyism and corporate welfare. We make gradual, commonsense improvements to programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and Medicare.

To be clear, entitlement spending will continue to grow under our budget. We simply increase spending at more responsible rate. When our budget reaches balance in 2024, non-defense spending will still be more than five times the size of defense spending.

The budget debate this year offers a clear contrast in priorities. The President is budgeting for second best. The House Republican plan seeks to renew America’s strength at home and abroad.

The stakes couldn’t be greater, and the choice couldn’t be clearer.

Paul Ryan represents Wisconsin's First Congressional District and serves as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

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