Fact Check: GOP Candidates Misstate Military Spending

Jan 25, 2016

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush says the Obama administration has "gutted" every weapons system in the U.S. military's inventory. GOP rival Donald Trump says the military is a "disaster." Florida Sen. Marco Rubio maintains that President Barack Obama is more interested in providing money to Planned Parenthood than for the nation's armed forces.

Gutted? Disaster?

Trashing Obama and arguing that he has failed to spend enough on defense has become a staple for Republican presidential hopefuls. At the debates and campaign stops, they've cast him as a feckless commander in chief, standing idly by while the world's finest military withers away.

What's lost in the din: Money spent on weapons modernization is on par with the George W. Bush administration. The military cuts that GOP contenders are complaining about were approved by Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. The military budget is being squeezed by the insistence of lawmakers in both parties that money be spent on bases and equipment that the Pentagon says it doesn't need.

And the government spends roughly 1,000 times more on the armed forces than on Planned Parenthood.

A few of the GOP candidates' claims and how they compare with the facts:

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"In this administration, every weapon system has been gutted," Jeb Bush said at a debate in South Carolina earlier this month.

The Facts: Total spending for the modernization for major weapons systems actually has remained stable since Bush's brother, President George W. Bush, left office in January 2009. The department's "selected acquisition reports," which detail past, current and future investments in dozens of weapons programs, show the value of the military services' modernization portfolio in November 2008 was $1.64 trillion. The latest reports, from March 2015, show a value of $1.62 trillion.

The armed forces are undergoing a transformation, according to the Defense Department's budget strategy. The military services will no longer be sized for large, prolonged operations — a reference to the lengthy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which involved massive reconstruction and humanitarian relief components. The focus now is on building a high-tech force that is nimble enough to defeat Islamic State militants and much more sophisticated adversaries.

For example, the Air Force is pushing ahead with the development and acquisition of an advanced bomber, known as Long-Range Strike, to replace the aging fleet of B-1 and B-52 bombers. The B-52s were first deployed when Dwight Eisenhower was president. The B-1s, which were fielded in the 1980s, are no longer certified for nuclear missions.

The new bomber is a highly classified, $80 billion project designed to build an information-age aircraft that eventually may be capable of flying without a pilot aboard. The Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman Corp. the bomber contract in October. The contract is part of the Pentagon's broader plan to modernize the entire nuclear force — missile-toting submarines, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range bombers.

The nagging question for any major weapons program is how to keep them from becoming budget busters. On Obama's watch, the Joint Strike Fighter — the single most expensive military project ever — has experienced significant cost, schedule, and performance setbacks that have driven up the price tag. The Government Accountability Office estimated last year that nearly $400 billion will be needed to buy the planned 2,457 aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

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Obama is "more interested in funding Planned Parenthood than he is in funding the military," Rubio said.

The Facts: While the defense budget has dropped in recent years, the cuts were approved by Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress, then signed into law by Obama. But even with the reductions, the size of the special operations forces, which include Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, has grown.

For 2016, the current budget year, the Defense Department's budget is roughly $581 billion. That includes $59 billion for fighting IS, operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other missions. There's $111 billion for new equipment and upgrades, ranging from jet fighters, helicopters, ships and submarines. Another $70 billion is for the research and development of new technologies.

The Budget Control Act set limits on how much could be spent on defense through 2021. Between 2011 and 2014, the Pentagon's budget fell by more than $100 billion. And in 2013 automatic budget cuts known as sequestration kicked in, forcing across-the-board reductions that led to widespread concern the military services would be unprepared to fight the nation's wars.

Yet Congress and the Obama administration still haven't been able agree on a way out of the constraints both sides were responsible for setting.

Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have resisted money-saving measures proposed by the Pentagon, such as closing excess military bases. Congress also has prohibited the retirement of the A-10 aircraft that provides close air support for ground troops. And for more than a decade, both Congress and the White House didn't offset the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They just wrote a check, adding to an already massive deficit.

Mike McCord, the Pentagon comptroller, said in a recent presentation, that the defense budget request for 2017 will be $584 billion.

Planned Parenthood affiliates received $524.8 million in federal health services grants and reimbursements, according to the organization's annual report.

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"Our military is a disaster," Trump said.

The Facts: The bombastic GOP front-runner typically avoids specifics, so it's unclear what he meant exactly.

There is, however, concern among congressional Republicans and Democrats that too many active-duty troops are being cut from the force.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and an advocate for bigger defense budgets, said Thursday that the force-reduction decisions were made before the growth of IS or Russia's invasion of Ukraine. If the sequestration process isn't reversed, McCain said, the Army could drop to 420,000 troops from a wartime peak of 570,000.

"Readiness suffers as our Army shrinks," McCain said, adding that only a little more than one third of the Army's brigade combat teams are ready for deployment and decisive operations.

But McCain, the leading Republican voice in Congress on national security issues, acknowledged the difficulty of seeking more money for defense when so much is being wasted on weapons programs that exceed their expected costs.

"It's hard for us to go back to our constituents when we have a $2 billion cost overrun on an aircraft carrier," McCain said. "If we're going to have credibility with the American people, we cannot have these horror stories."