Last week, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) unveiled its own budget proposal, which cuts over $3 trillion more than Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan over the next ten years. Despite all the media commentary about a divide within the Republican Party on the defense budget, the RSC proposal, like Paul Ryan’s, funds defense at the same level the Obama administration requested for FY12. With these budgets, congressional Republicans have embraced the principle that defense spending is a unique portion of federal outlays and should be treated as such. House Republicans appear to realize that deficit reduction is best achieved by reining in runaway spending on entitlements and non-defense discretionary spending, not the Pentagon.
Those aspiring for the presidency in 2012 will have the next opportunity to significantly impact the defense spending debate. For them, the example set by President Reagan should be instructive. Faced with an intense debate about the deficit during the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan repeatedly reminded voters that defense was different. As Reagan later wrote in his memoirs: “Time and again, when I went around the country calling for a balanced budget, I’d get this question: ‘But what if it comes down to a choice between national security and the deficit?’ Every time I answered: ‘I’d have to come down on the side of national defense.’…I wanted a balanced budget. But I also wanted peace through strength.”
Republicans laid the groundwork for a responsible approach to deficit reduction that preserves rather than undermines the very security that has allowed America to prosper. But more will need to be done (and more will need to be spent) in the years to come if we are to meet our global responsibilities and confront the many threats facing us in the decades ahead.