U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's latest budget blueprint would keep in place the so-called $500 billion sequestration cuts to planned defense spending that were triggered March 1. (Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, unveiled a budget plan Tuesday that departs from past GOP practice by funding the Pentagon only at “minimum levels.”
A House Budget Committee aide said the plan keeps sequestration funding levels, but calls for "more sensible cuts to meet those targets." The Wisconsin Republican’s budget blueprint would keep in place the so-called $500 billion sequestration cuts to planned defense spending that were triggered March 1. What’s more, in a shift for House Republicans, the former GOP vice presidential candidate proposes only modest increases in military spending over the next decade.
“Our defense spending level in here reflects exactly what the president’s Joint Chiefs and [defense] secretary said are the minimum levels necessary to fund the missions of the Pentagon,” Ryan said during a Tuesday morning briefing on Capitol Hill.
“We think this is our first priority in the federal government: national defense,” Ryan told reporters. “And so we’re funding it at the levels the Joint Chiefs and the last secretary said are necessary to maintain national security for the country.”
Specifically, the Ryan-crafted budget plan would give the Pentagon $560.2 billion in fiscal 2014. The Obama administration is expected to deliver its 2014 spending request to Congress on April 8; it remains unclear whether its military spending plan will be similar to the Ryan-pitched level.
“Over the next decade, this budget provides over $6 trillion to fund our nation’s defense,” Ryan’s budget plan states.
The House GOP blueprint acknowledges its Pentagon spending amount would be “significantly less than the levels in previous budget resolutions passed by the House.”
But Ryan is proposing an increase over the levels that would be mandated by sequestration, put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act. “It is approximately $500 billion more than will be available absent changes in the Budget Control Act,” the budget plan states.
On the sequester cuts, Ryan echoed the text of his budget plan by blaming President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats for Washington’s failure to replace the cuts with other deficit-reduction measures.
“The House of Representatives, on multiple occasions, passed responsible replacements to the sequester,” the GOP plan states. “Unfortunately, the administration refused to take action, and the sequester took effect for the current fiscal year.”
But Ryan made it clear that his spending plan makes no attempt to get rid of the widely disliked, across-the-board cuts to planned defense and domestic spending.
“The law is the law,” Ryan told reporters. “We’re not going to change that.”
The House GOP budget plan’s shift to “minimum levels” of Defense Department spending is part of a push by the Republican caucus to balance the federal budget and substantially reduce the nearly $17 trillion federal deficit.
Ryan’s GOP plan proposes doing just that in 10 years, primarily by slashing $4.6 trillion from planned federal spending.
“We owe the country a balanced budget,” Ryan said.
Asked if House Republicans should propose a more moderate spending plan because Obama, a Democrat, won re-election last November, Ryan pushed back hard.
In the wake of an election that gave Obama a second term but also kept Republicans in control of the House, Ryan said, “what you do is show the country what you believe in.”
The Budget Committee chairman has yet to announce whether he will seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
“While we wait on the president [to submit his budget], and federal spending spirals out of control, I’m grateful to Chairman Ryan for a serious legislative solution to our economic woes and massive deficit,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said in a statement. “Most importantly, this budget shields our troops from further damage under sequestration, which represents the third cut to our military in the President’s four years in office.”
McKeon, a proponent of larger Pentagon budgets, did not directly address the $560.2 billion in 2014 monies Ryan proposes for the military, nor the $6 trillion amount he calls for over the next decade.
Some pro-defense Democrats expect more Pentagon budget shrinkage — driven by House Republicans.
“I think the idea that the Republicans have is that, ‘We’re going to be able to reduce the deficit by cutting spending, and draw a line that revenues are off the table,’” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said March 7 when asked if the Pentagon budget remains in danger of cuts beyond sequestration. “Until that line is removed, you’re going to see this pressure to cut more programs continue. ... I don’t think the question is to cut [the defense budget] or not. The question is how.”
HASC member Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., told Defense News the same day that House Republican leaders are allowing the deficit-focused conservative members who began winning elections in 2010 to dictate the party’s budget and legislative priorities.
“You see all these Republicans crowing about all the cuts that they have secured,” Johnson said. “Now they’re beating on their chests saying, ‘Get ready for round two: the Ryan budget.’ At this point, they don’t even hold defense sacrosanct. That’s a big change. That shows how reckless these new, inexperienced [members] are. And they are leading those who are supposed to have statesmen’s tendencies. The mature are being run by those who should sit back and try to learn a little bit.”
Across the Capitol, senior Senate Democrats were quick to slam Ryan’s plan.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Ryan budget is built on “draconian cuts” and “gimmickry.”
Ryan’s “budget is anything but balanced,” Reid said. “It’s the same old approach.”
The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, predicted the Senate Democrats’ coming 2014 budget proposal will offer “sharp contrasts” to Ryan’s plan. It is expected that the Democrats will counter with a bill that features new revenues and fewer spending cuts.
Durbin said the House GOP plan relies on “fuzzy math” to achieve its alleged goal of balancing the federal books and significantly shrinking the deficit.
Senior Democratic senators said Tuesday that Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., likely will unveil the upper chamber’s 2014 budget blueprint later this week.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said Murray’s plan could hit the Senate floor as soon as next week.