Assessing Republican Seriousness on the National Debt

Yesterday Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin made the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

Mr. Ryan’s speech focused heavily on the national debt, which he declared as a one of his “greatest concerns as a parent.” The representative used the example of his three children to emphasize the grave importance of the issue, which was the main theme of his speech.

Mr. Ryan’s call to reduce the national debt, while necessary and useful, was also somewhat lacking in specifics – because many of the specific actions required to reduce the debt either are unpopular, or go against the priorities of the Republican Party.

Take, for instance, the extension of the Bush tax cuts. A true deficit hawk would be horrified at extending these tax cuts; doing so adds an estimated 4 trillion dollars to the debt over the next decade. Indeed, Mr. Obama’s former budget director stated that, “If we actually ended the Bush-era tax cuts, that would pretty much do it [balance the budget],”

Despite Mr. Ryan’s purported concern over the national debt, he and almost the entire Republican Party supported extending these tax cuts.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this; most Americans, the president himself, and this blogger were with Mr. Ryan on extending the Bush tax cuts. There are legitimate reasons to do so. One may believe in the value of tax cuts, or in the value of stimulating the economy.

But to support adding 4 trillion dollars to the debt over the next decade, and then to make a speech calling the national debt the greatest threat to the country’s future, is a tad hypocritical.

There is another way to test Republican seriousness on the national debt.

Many Republicans like to call for cutting spending and reducing the size of government as a way to reduce the national debt.

This is quite reasonable. In fact, let’s talk about the most wasteful part of America’s government. Today the United States lavishes hundreds of billions of dollars on this bloated organization – an organization which is very often ineffective at doing what it is supposed to do, yet constantly screams for more money and is given that money by politicians on both sides of the aisle.

I am talking, of course, about the military.

America spends six times more on the military than any other nation on Earth. Of the top ten military budgets in the world, the U.S. and its allies (France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, and Italy) compose 79.8% of the money spent on the military.

There is quite a bit of waste in this spending, too. Take the infamous F-22, a $65 billion program which was finally ended in 2009. The F-22 was originally envisioned to fight high-level Soviet planes two decades ago. Each plane cost approximately $44,000 to fly for one hour. Despite spending $65 billion on the F-22, the plane was never been used once in combat – not a single time.

This is the very definition of wasteful government spending that Republicans like to complain about.

If one is serious about reducing the debt, a great way to start is by cutting military spending. Military spending, for instance, is ten times what the federal government spends on education every year.

Unsurprisingly, however, Republicans have no plans anytime soon to reduce military spending.

If one adds just these two items together – extending the Bush tax cuts, and refusing to cut military spending – one gets ten trillion dollars over ten years, which the Republicans have declared off-limits in their attempt to reduce the debt. That’s a lot of money that can be saved, but which Republicans refuse to due to their ideological priorities.

In Mr. Ryan’s rebuttal to the president, he said the following words:

Our debt is out of control. What was a fiscal challenge is now a fiscal crisis.

We cannot deny it; instead we must, as Americans, confront it responsibly.

And that is exactly what Republicans pledge to do.

So much for that.

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