Why it still takes the traditional media so long to assign reporters to certain subjects remains a mystery. Today's Boston Globe provides an example
in coverage of Mitt Romney's proposal to spend 4 percent of gross domestic product on the Pentagon's "core" budget. For the uninitiated, that's the Pentagon budget without the money for nuclear weapons and, ahem, any wars we happen to be fighting, which add several tens of billions to the total.
While such omissions may seem odd, the core budget (when adjusted for inflation) does provide a good comparison over the years. The core Pentagon budget for 2013 is $523 billion. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, that's 20 percent more than the average annual core defense budget for the entire Cold War period from 1948-1992. It's the same amount, in real dollars, as the Bush defense budget of 2003.
Romney says that's not enough. He wants to boost Pentagon core spending to 4 percent of the gross domestic product from its current level of about 3.4 percent.
An examination of Romney’s plan, however, shows how difficult it will be for him to achieve his goal. Even some of Romney’s advisers, while saying the Pentagon increases are essential, said in interviews that political and budgetary issues would probably make it impossible for Romney to increase defense spending to 4 percent of GDP in a first year—and tough even in a fourth year—of a presidency.
“No president in the next administration could take the defense budget to 4 percent in the next year,’’ said Mackenzie Eaglen, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who has advised Romney on the issue. “That’s not a hard number and anybody would be crazy to suggest it is. It would have to be a very slow ramp-up and they would be hard-pressed to even achieve a 4 percent base budget by the end of the first term.’’
Why Pentagon increases beyond Cold War spending are "essential" now is a puzzler to anyone not familiar with how the military-industrial-congressional complex operates.
Increasing defense spending isn't a new theme with Romney. He's been making the 4 percent proposal for years. But until his speech at The Citadel last October, he hadn't been very specific. Then he said he would reverse the "hollowing out" of the Navy by increasing ship-building from nine ships a year to 15. In the January GOP debates in Tampa, he claimed the Navy now has fewer ships than at any time since 1917. Which turned out to be untrue. It had fewer ships than now during George W. Bush's whole second term. One could argue that a single aircraft carrier potentially has more firepower than the entire Navy in 1917, since we had no aircraft carriers in those days. But any such comparisons with nearly a century ago fall flat.
Since Romney didn't specify what kind of additional ships should be built, analysts had to guess the budgetary impact based on the Navy's wish-list (mostly destroyers and attack subs). That put it at $35 billion to $40 billion over five years (which is how the Navy figures its ship-building spending), a budget increase in a supposed time of austerity of 43-50 percent.
But back to that 4 percent overall figure for the Pentagon. Core defense spending for 2013 clocks in at about 3.37 percent of gross domestic product. Under Romney, the $523 billion core budget Obama has proposed would be $620 billion. (Plus, of course, the money for nukes and the money for actual shooting wars.)
If you figure it another way, if the Obama administration's current plans were to continue until 2022, the Pentagon core 10-year budget would be $5.7 trillion. Under Romney, based on GDP projections of the Office of Management and Budget, Pentagon spending would be $8.3 trillion for the decade.
There is another way to figure this, too. Under Romney's plans to keep overall spending from increasing the deficit, non-defense discretionary spending, which has averaged just over 3.7 percent of GDP over the past three decades and has never been below 3.2 percent, would have to be cut to 1.7 percent by 2022.
Romney is quite wrong to say his budget proposal can't be "scored." It rates a big fat zero.