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Obama Attacks Romney on Size of Military Budget

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Observers have expressed surprise at this Obama campaign ad hitting Mitt Romney for supporting increased military spending:

Mitt Romney’s plan? A new $250,000 tax cut for millionaires. Increase military spending. Adding trillions to the deficit. Or President Obama’s plan: a balanced approach. Four trillion in deficit reduction. Millionaires pay a little more.

First of all, commentators are picking out three words in an otherwise borderline offensive ad highlighting deficit reduction at a time of mass unemployment. But I’ll set that aside for a moment.

It makes perfect sense for the Obama campaign to attack Romney for increased military spending. First of all, cutting the military budget is popular. Very, very popular. Poll-driven campaigns typically put themselves on the right side and their opponents on the wrong side of popular issues. In addition, Romney’s plans for the military budget are really out of step – he would increase spending by $2.1 trillion at a time when the US military already spends more than every country on Earth combined.

But we shouldn’t fall into a trap of assuming that just because the Obama campaign hits Romney for increased military spending that Obama would somehow decrease it. At least not beyond announced levels. Just yesterday, the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget, Jeffrey Zients, testified before Congress that it would not be responsible to let the automatic sequester, half of which would hit the military budget, go forward at the end of the year.

About the only thing the two sides agreed on was that letting the automatic cuts known on Capitol Hill as the “sequester” go into effect would result in dramatic job losses and shrunken defense and domestic programs […]

Zients also noted that because the cuts would come mid-way through the fiscal year, reductions that have been estimated to amount to about 8 percent of domestic program budgets and 10 percent of the Pentagon’s spending could actually rise as high as 13 or 14 percent.

“Sequestration is a blunt, indiscriminate instrument designed to force congressional action on achieving a balanced deficit reduction plan,” according to a prepared text of Zients’s testimony. “It is not the responsible way for our nation to achieve deficit reduction.”

The Administration did one canny thing, announcing that the sequester would not affect military personnel, meaning that it would all come out of contracting and procurement. But they really don’t want to see that happen. They would prefer, as the Defense Secretary has said, to have the sequester overrode by a deficit deal where defense would only suffer the modest cuts (actually they just slow the growth) agreed to by the Pentagon.

Is it good that Democrats are willing rhetorically to attack increased military spending? Sure. But they have to be willing to actually reduce that spending. Otherwise, the military budget only increases and never decreases over time.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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