President Barack Obama avoided veering into military policy as much as possible during Wednesday night’s debate. But the few comments he did make about the wars and defense merit a second look.
Obama twice mentioned the two wars his presidency has overseen, contradicting himself in an effort to have his cake and eat it too.
In his opening remarks, the president recalled taking office faced with more than a trillion-dollar deficit.
“And we know where it came from: two wars that were paid for on a credit card; two tax cuts that were not paid for; and a whole bunch of programs that were not paid for; and then a massive economic crisis,” he said.
Though he acknowledged up front that the wars were paid for with borrowed money, he later tried to convince the audience that ending two wars would leave the U.S. with cash to spend.
“I think it’s important for us…that we take some of the money that we’re saving as we wind down two wars to rebuild America and that we reduce our deficit in a balanced way that allows us to make these critical investments.”
According to the debate transcript, Obama cited the figure $2 trillion four different times in 90 minutes–that’s how much he said Republican challenger Mitt Romney wanted to add to military spending above what defense leaders have asked for. While a study completed by the Center for a New American Security did find that the Pentagon would have a little over $2 trillion in additional funding to spend over the next decade if Romney kept his promise to bring defense spending up to four percent GDP, about a half trillion of that would have to go just to replace cuts Obama has already implemented at the department beginning this year. Pentagon officials have called those cuts tough but manageable, though making them did force trimming or delay of procurement programs, a huge downsize in the Air Force and Air National Guard, and new fee requirements for veterans’ healthcare.
As Romney mentioned, another half-trillion dollars in cuts are slated to take effect at the beginning of next year under sequestration, a quandary Obama did not address at all during the debate.