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Presidential debate 101: Does Romney want extra $2 trillion for Pentagon?

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OK, then. The two sides are lobbing charges back and forth as if they’re engaged in a wonk version of dodge ball. We’ll try to shed some light on this issue as best we can. Remember that big Washington budget numbers are often far squishier than you’d think, given the apparent precision of numerals.

We’ll start with a fact that neither campaign disputes. In a National Security White Paper, the Romney campaign has vowed that it will set a floor for core defense spending at 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

By way of comparison, the Obama administration’s 2013 budget proposes a core defense budget – spending which excludes the costs of war operations – of about $525 billion, which should be equivalent to about 3.3 percent of GDP.

So how much would it cost to dial defense spending up to 4 percent of US output? Travis Sharp, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security (a think tank founded by two current Obama administration officials), has looked at the question pretty thoroughly. Using Congressional Budget Office numbers to predict economic growth, and figuring that it would take Romney a few years to get up to the 4 percent number, Sharp puts the 10-year cost of total Romney administration defense spending at about $7.8 trillion dollars.

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