BY BEN ARMBRUSTER
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Wednesday defended his budget’s call to increase military spending by complaining that the U.S. has only 10 aircraft carriers and that the U.S. Army is smaller than it was in 1945 and the U.S. Navy is smaller than it was during World War I.
The House will begin debate this week on various budget proposals — Ryan’s included — and the former GOP vice presidential candidate promoted the defense portion of his version on Real Clear Politics.
President Obama’s proposed military spending reductions will “have real-world consequences,” Ryan said. “If we adopted the President’s budget, the Army would shrink to its smallest size since World War II, the Navy to its smallest size since World War I, and the Air Force to its smallest size ever.” He added, “we would have just ten carrier strike groups.”
“Under our plan,” Ryan says, “the army could maintain its current strength. We could have eleven carriers and a full cruiser fleet.”
He doesn’t say why the U.S. needs another aircraft carrier. The United States does indeed have 10 aircraft carrier groups. Russia has one. China also has one, and experts have said that it will take decades for the Chinese to catch up to the “far superior” American carriers, “if ever.” Russia and China’s aircraft carriers are aging dinosaurs and pose no significant threat to the United States. What’s more, U.S. NATO allies have 6 carriers combined (for those counting, that’s U.S. and its allies: 16 aircraft carriers; U.S. quasi-adversaries: 2 aircraft carriers).
But also, Ryan’s comparison of today’s U.S. military versus those of years long ago was well-worn during the 2012 presidential campaign and, it is “pointless,” as CNN pointed out at the time . Why? Simply put, because of technological advances, one U.S. carrier group today could wipe out the entire U.S. Navy of 1917, and a few F-35s could probably take out America’s Air Force from 1945. This is why other news organizations said these comparisons are “nonsense” and “meaningless.”
Ryan also justifies spending more money on the military by noting that defense spending is “just 18 percent” of the total federal budget, while in the past, he says, it has been upwards of 50 percent of the budget (like, for example, during large wars). “And if we stay on the current path, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that defense will fall below 10 percent by 2024,” Ryan says.
But this reasoning is also meaningless because it ignores the fact that military spending has continued to increase over the last 14 years. The United States spends more on its military than at least the next 13 countries combined — many of which are U.S. allies. Even President Obama’s latest defense budget, according to CAP experts Lawrence Korb, Kate Blakeley and Max Hoffman, “is still operating under the assumption that near-record-high funding levels will return.”
Ryan says his budget “reaches balance in 2024.” How does he do it? By cutting economic spending that creates jobs and reducing spending on health care, food assistance, education and other programs that help low-income Americans. His budget will even eliminate needed programs that serve his own constituents.
The U.S. Navy also has one amphibious assault ship and another commissioned for 2018, both of which, Wired has noted, “can double as a small aircraft carrier.” Moreover, Wired adds, “The sailing branch’s other assault ships — currently numbering nine — can also support dozens of helicopters plus a handful of Harrier jump jets apiece. But they lack the facilities for sustained flight ops, meaning they’re more assault ships than classic carriers.”