The Peter G. Peterson Foundation's ad on defense spending is misleading, says FPI Policy Director Robert Zarate

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Recent Republican presidential candidate debates have featured a 30-second ad sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in support of more cuts to defense spending. The commercial, however, is misleading.

The spot begins with this assertion: “To address the spending side of our debt problem, you have to pay attention to all the big-ticket items. That includes defense spending.” But the commercial fails to say that defense spending has already been cut multiple times since President Obama first took office, amounting to (at least) $400 billion dollars. (It’s worth noting that Associated Press reporter Robert Burns made the same omission in his so-called “fact check” attack of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.) 

  • In 2009, the Obama administration axed roughly 20 major weapons systems, including programs like the F-22 Raptor and the Army’s Future Combat Systems. It also delayed or targeted for cancellation a host of other vital replacement systems, including the Navy’s CG(X) cruiser and the LCC Command Ship. As Robert Gates, then secretary of defense, said: “All told, over the past two years, more than 30 programs were cancelled, capped, or ended that, if pursued to completion, would have cost more than $300 billion.”
  • In the next round of defense cuts, the Pentagon cut $78 billion over five years. (In a January 2011 speech, Gates explained these reductions.)

President Obama not only touted these deep defense cuts in an April 2011 policy speech, but also said he wanted to repeat them: “Over the last two years, Secretary Bob Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending [in the Pentagon], saving $400 billion in current and future spending. I believe we can do that again.”

Sure enough, Obama did “do that again” when he signed into law the Budget Control Act of 2011, the last-minute deal between the president and Congress in August to raise America’s debt ceiling. In fact, in implementing the first round of immediate defense cuts mandated by the debt limit deal, the White House aims to further reduce defense spending by another $489 billion over the next decade.

That’s not all, however. If Congress doesn’t pass a law by mid-January 2012 that reduces America’s long-term deficit by more than $1.2 trillion, defense spending will be automatically slashed by as much as $600 billion—arguably more.

The Pentagon’s multi-year budget has been diminished by (at least) $889 billion. Even the president’s secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey have said that any further defense cuts will be “very high risk” and will “truly devastate our national defense.”

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon warned of the economic impact of military budget cuts: “[O]n the economic front, if the super committee fails to reach an agreement, its automatic cuts would kill upwards of 800,000 active-duty, civilian and industrial American jobs. This would inflate our unemployment rate by a full percentage point, close shipyards and assembly lines, and damage the industrial base that our warfighters need to stay fully supplied and equipped.”

None of this makes it into the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s 30-second commercial. And the advertisement completely ignores how spending on social entitlements and other domestic programs has grown massively since the 1970s—in sharp contrast to defense spending, which, even with two ongoing wars, has remained comparatively flat. 

Secretary Panetta said on September 20, 2011: “[D]efense is taking more than its share of the cuts.  We’re doing in excess of $450 billion in reductions [under the first phase of the Budget Control Act]…. [I]f you’re serious about dealing with the deficit, don’t go back to the discretionary account. Pay attention to the two-thirds of the federal budget that is in large measure responsible for the size of the debt that we’re dealing with.” Panetta ought to know, considering the former Democratic congressman was White House budget director in the 1990s.

If the Peter G. Peterson Foundation is truly serious about dealing with the deficit and debt, then they’d be wise to stop hiding behind slick commercials with little girls dressed as school teachers and to start dealing with the facts. 

- Originally posted on The Weekly Standard Blog

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