If we want a strong America in a dangerous world, it's time to choose the direction that Paul Ryan is charting
From Arthur C. Brooks, Edwin J. Feulner, and FPI Director William Kristol
In an election year, it's all too easy for politicians to defer hard choices until after the polls have closed in November. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) has taken the more difficult road with his "Path to Prosperity" budget.
Mr. Ryan's plan has received much attention for tackling America's spiraling expenditures on entitlements and domestic discretionary spending. Less reported is the budget's partial restoration of national defense as the No. 1 priority of the federal government.
Even within the framework of a plan to reduce outlays by $6.2 trillion over the
next decade, Mr. Ryan has found a way to replace $214 billion of the $487
billion in military spending reductions that are in Barack Obama's budget. And
he has done so while avoiding the tax increases proposed by the president.
Conservatives recognize that they have to deal with fiscal reality and get the federal government's balance sheet in order. That is why Mr. Ryan's plan is so bold. It does not cut indiscriminately, focusing instead on the true drivers of our spending crisis and recognizing that tax increases would worsen our economic situation.
The Ryan plan also helps to reverse what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called the "catastrophic" process of sequestration—the year-after-year, automatic cuts agreed to in last summer's debt-limit deal between the president and the House leadership. These cuts will eviscerate the United States military if Congress does not quickly pass a law to undo them this year. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has made plain the consequences of sequestration: "We would no longer be a global power."
The contrast between the House Republican budget and that of our current commander-in-chief is striking. President Obama has been arguing that raising taxes is the only solution to sequestration that he will accept. In other words, he asks the nation to decide between higher taxes and a weaker defense. Mr. Ryan rejects either solution.
Instead, Mr. Ryan takes some important first steps toward facing up to the true drivers of the federal government's money woes: spending through "entitlement" programs. These now consume roughly 60% of the federal budget, up from 20% in 1970. In contrast, national defense, which comprised nearly 40% of the budget in the 1970s, costs less than 20% today, even with current war spending. Absent reform, entitlements will spiral upward and crowd out all other federal spending—not just on the military.
It's incorrect to regard entitlements as mandatory programs. They reflect political choices about what kind of country we want and how we will govern ourselves. If we fail to reform entitlements, we'll go on pretending we can afford a retirement with benefits we never earned, paid for by our children and grandchildren. We'll be choosing an ever-more socialized medical system. We will in effect choose to become a European-style—and unsustainable—welfare state.
We will also be choosing to lay aside the burdens and inconveniences of world leadership. Mr. Obama insists that he doesn't believe America is in decline. But his redistributionist policies at home and his preference for "leading from behind" abroad can only be regarded as making exactly that choice.
The Ryan budget is not perfect for some conservatives. Many would like to see American military spending restored more rapidly and an even more aggressive approach to tackling the entitlement problem. But Mr. Ryan's budget is a choice about our future, and this is a time to choose—not hide behind the sequestration process.
If we want a strong America in a dangerous world, and a freer and growing economy for our citizens, it's time to choose the direction that Mr. Ryan is charting.
Mr. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation. Mr. Kristol is a director of the Foreign Policy Initiative. Their three organizations compose the Defending Defense coalition.
- Originally written for the Wall Street Journal
Defending Defense Resources
- A Response to the Obama Administration’s Preview of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Budget Request – American Enterprise Institute, Foreign Policy Initiative, Heritage Foundation – January 27, 2012
- Defense Spending, the Super Committee, and the Price of Greatness – American Enterprise Institute, Foreign Policy Initiative, Heritage Foundation – November 16, 2011
- Defending Defense - Warning: Hollow Force Ahead! – American Enterprise Institute, Foreign Policy Initiative, Heritage Foundation – July 21, 2011
- The Party of National Security – FPI Executive Director Jamie Fly – The Weekly Standard Blog – March 27, 2012
- [Video] – FPI Director William Kristol Discussed the Ryan Budget's Impact on Defense Spending – Fox News’ Special Report w/ Bret Baier – March 20, 2012
- FPI Fact Sheet: The Dangers of Deep Defense Cuts: What America’s Civilian and Military Leaders are Saying – Foreign Policy Initiative – March 5, 2012
- FPI Bulletin: New Defense Guidance Embraces Strategic Decline – Foreign Policy Initiative – FPI Policy Director Robert Zarate and Policy Analyst Evan Moore – January 7, 2012
- Essential Sequestration Resources – House Armed Services Committee
- A Path to Security – Gary Schmitt and Thomas Donnelly – The Weekly Standard – March 24, 2012
- A Tale of Two Budgets – Yuval Levin – The Weekly Standard – March 24, 2012
- Ryan for the Defense – Owen Graham – The Heritage Foundation’s blog, The Foundry – March 23, 2012
- Fixing the GOP’s Self-Inflicted Wound on Defense – Marc Thiessen – Washington Post – March 15, 2012
- In the Persian Gulf, A Vulnerable Fleet – Bret Stephens – Wall Street Journal (subscription required) – March 13, 2012
- Budget Sequestration Would be a Dagger to Defense – Robert J. Samuelson – Washington Post – March 4, 2012
- Chart of the Week: Obama Makes Defense the Lowest Budget Priority – Rob Bluey – The Heritage Foundation’s blog, The Scribe – March 4, 2012
- The Specter of Sequestration – Michael O’Hanlon and Mackenzie Eaglen – CNN’s Global Public Square – February 24, 2012
- Slashing America's Defense: A Suicidal Trajectory – Max Boot – Commentary – January 2012
- No Superpower Here – Gary Schmitt and Thomas Donnelly – The Weekly Standard – January 7, 2012
The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.