Government Bytes


Lack of Details, Broad Plans in Final Presidential Debate

by Dan Barrett / /

Last night, President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney had a final national television appearance to give taxpayers the details of how they would change spending associated with not only foreign policy but also pressing domestic issues with potential global implications. Though there was some agreement between them of certain points, Americans were given few explanations of how the government would pay for any new international programs or how the budget would change with the operations and policies.

Here are the questions asked by moderator Bob Schieffer:

  • Was the response to the attack in Benghazi, Libya a policy failure?
  • Given growing violence in Syria, should we reassess policy, or is the situation impossible?
  • Do you have any regrets about supporting the Egyptian revolution and the deposition of President Mubarak?
  • What is America’s role in the world?
  • What levels of military spending are appropriate in a weak economy?
  • What limits, or red lines, would you establish for action against Iran on behalf of Israel?
  • What would you do if Afghanistan is not ready for a transition of power in 2014?
  • Would you distance yourself from Pakistan?
  • How should we approach policy toward China?

NTUF does not have a position regarding many of the issues covered in the debate but we can look at some of the issues affecting the budget.

Mitt Romney’s Defense Spending

Since the GOP Primaries, Romney has proposed a minimum four percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) spending level for defense-related activities. In order for defense spending, currently at 3.4 percent in FY 2014, to reach his target in four years, outlays would have to increase by $683.207 billion over that time period. Put another way, federal spending would be increased by $170.802 billion each year. NTUF was able to score this proposal by comparing historical and projected spending.

This proposal is not new, however, it is difficult to determine how the FY 2013 $54.667 billion automatic across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration, would be implemented. Romney has said he is against the cuts so a question taxpayers need answered is, if sequestration were to occur and not within the military, where would the additional savings come from?

Barack Obama’s Afghanistan Withdrawal

While both candidates wish to get American troops out of Afghanistan, the President has established a date and some associated budgetary assumptions. The 2013 Midsession Review (page 56), a budgetary update, lists FY 2013 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) (including operations in Iraq) totaling $96.7 billion and each year thereafter equaling $44.2 billion annually. One thing to remember is the Office of Management and Budget noted that the $44.2 billion yearly cost is an assumption but the Operations has been capped at $450 billion between 2013 and 2021.

Scoring possible savings under NTUF’s BillTally project rules is difficult. Aside from the fact that defense operations spending is appropriated differently than other programs and activities (basic functions like salaries and maintenance are a part of the normal defense budget but actual operations require supplemental appropriations), it is also uncertain whether future spending should count as savings when those tax dollars have not yet been authorized or appropriated yet. As a result, I would ask the Obama (and Romney for that matter), the Budget currently plans for $273.4 billion for OCO in new spending over the next five years but how would your proposals from the debate change that figure?

Hopefully we'll get some answers before November 6th.