On April 13, more than a week after Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., provided a detailed "Choice of Two Futures" blueprint for how the GOP would reduce our disastrous deficit, Obama showed up late at George Washington University to describe how he now wants to fix the problem he failed to address in his fiscal year 2012 federal budget proposal. The geniuses at the White House decided to call the president's address "The Country We Believe In." Set aside the grammatical anomaly of ending the title with a preposition.
Politicians, economists and lobbyists of every stripe and persuasion already have begun dissecting who among us will have to pay more in taxes and how much it will be. "Experts" and pundits are doing their best to defend which model will best serve the purposes of their respective constituencies on the left and right. What the competing analysts seem to have missed is the stark difference in how our elected officials view the federal government's most crucial responsibility: national defense.
Ryan's 73-page "Path to Prosperity" proffers a detailed analysis supported by voluminous Congressional Budget Office numbers on how we arrived at our current fiscal mess -- and a reasonable rationale for determining how we should address catastrophic deficits that would bankrupt our children. His plan includes comprehensive legislative proposals for changes in current federal health care, retirement security, job training policies and other "entitlements."
Ryan wisely avoids suggesting specific changes in national defense programs necessary to protect the American people from current adversaries and deter likely threats in the future. Instead, he urges defense spending be determined as the Framers of our Constitution intended -- by Congress -- and that our legislators do so within a binding cap on overall spending based on a percentage of gross domestic product.
Conversely, Obama's plan for "winning the future," though devoid of any essential CBO data, takes any changes in Social Security off the table for the foreseeable future. The president did, however, offer the usual progressive panacea for solving our disastrous deficit: Congress must make what he calls "the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans" pay more -- much more -- in taxes, and we must spend less -- much less -- on national security.
In his belated 43-minute campaign-style attack on the GOP budget proposal, POTUS urged increased "investment" in his pet projects: new federal spending on "clean energy," government-funded "education programs" and "transportation infrastructure." He offered only one concrete idea for reduced spending: a very specific $400 billion cut in national defense.
This revelation on how our soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines would pay their "fair share" of Obama's multi-trillion-dollar deficit reduction program was tucked neatly into the midpoint of his remarks. After blithely promising to "never accept cuts that compromise our ability to defend our homeland or America's interests around the world," he said, "We need to not only eliminate waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness, but we're going to have to conduct a fundamental review of America's missions, capabilities and our role in a changing world."
Exactly what Obama meant by that statement is unknown. No one argues with the need to eliminate waste, fraud or abuse at the Pentagon or anywhere else in the federal government. But how he came up with the $400 billion figure has stumped his own defense secretary, Robert Gates. Immediately after the president's exposition, a Pentagon spokesman noted that cuts this deep would require the U.S. to "abandon some military missions and trim troop levels." House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon expressed "grave concerns" about the cuts "while our troops are fighting in three different theaters."
This new promise of a "fundamental review" of roles, missions and capabilities ought to concern us all. Our present defense outlays for everything from pay and benefits to force levels to the acquisition of aircraft, ships, tanks and trucks were set by a congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review in 2010. Added to this are supplemental appropriations required to fund the costs of current military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
Does Obama's just announced review of our place in this new world disorder supplant the findings of last year's QDR? Is America's new "role" circumscribed or expanded by the president's most recently described "responsibility to protect" civilians from despots? Does it include civilians endangered from tyrants other than Moammar Gadhafi?
Only our commander in chief knows the answers to these questions. Certainly, no one wants to believe that the president of the United States would dissemble or simply make up the numbers to appease his left-wing base. But either Barack Obama is busted for creative accounting or our troops are broke. Let's hope it's not the troops.