By Colin Clark
Editor, AOL Defense
WASHINGTON -- As GOP budget ace Rep. Paul Ryan rolled out his ambitious 2012 budget plan, supporters of the country's largest defense program urged their House Budget Committee colleagues not to touch the Joint Strike Fighter program.
An April 1 letter, signed by 41 members of the House, describes Lockheed Martin's JSF program as a "quantum leap" over current US fighters, such as the F-15 and the F/A-18. The letter points to Chinese-designed and -built J-20 stealth fighter and its Russian cousin, saying those planes help make the case for the JSF.
The signers said they would "oppose any action" that might hurt the program.
Their fears may be overblown; Ryan’s budget proposal largely gives a pass to defense spending. The proposed $692.5 billion for the Pentagon’s budget marks an important victory for mainline GOP members over the Tea Party caucus. House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon and Rep. Todd Akin have strongly supported of defense spending, even in the face of Tea Party calls for cuts.
The Obama administration requested $712 billion in defense spending for 2011, with $159 billion of that intended for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. That puts the requested base budget for the Pentagon at $549 billion.
Akin may have played a key role in turning the tide on the defense budget. As a member of both the HASC and the Budget Committee, he has been arguing for weeks with his GOP budget colleagues to prevent cuts to defense spending. In a commentary posted to the conservative Heritage Foundation's blog The Foundry last week, Akin rejected the argument that Pentagon spending on weapons is inherently wasteful:
While we may not agree that all of these missions are essential, it would be irresponsible to cut funds for troops that are in harms’ way. While some may think that downsizing defense is as simple as cutting funding for futuristic weapons technology or changing our foreign policy posture, the reality is that most defense funding is paying for the military we have today, including fuel, maintenance, health care and salaries. Cutting defense spending will have a serious impact on the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines that are serving our country today as well as in the future.
Secondly, many who propose defense cuts argue that there must be waste in a budget the size of the Department of Defense, so cutting the defense budget is reasonable. I agree that there is waste, but simply chopping a percentage off the top of defense funding is an inefficient and irresponsible way of trying to eliminate wasteful spending. Congress is part of the problem, with funding levels that are unpredictable and oversight that is often weak or lacking. Getting rid of waste, fraud and abuse is necessary but it is a wholly inadequate budget strategy because these cuts represent a small percentage of the defense budget.
Ryan’s budget plan echoes Akin, arguing that "defense spending as a share of the budget has fallen from around 25 percent thirty years ago to around 20 percent today." Eager to bring Tea Party skeptics on board, Ryan notes, "Defense spending should be executed with greater efficiency and accountability. But responsible budgeting must never lose sight of the fact that the first responsibility of the federal government is to provide for the defense of the nation."
Launching in Spring 2011, AOL Defense will provide news, insight and tools about the defense sector. Follow Colin on Twitter at @colinclarkaol.