Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) of California appeared on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" the other day, and repeated a variety of familiar talking points. There was one, in particular, that stood out and warrants some additional scrutiny.
"Here we have a president of the United States who is just profusely saying how wonderful he thinks of the military and we know, all of us who are sitting in the audience, he's trying to gut the military!" the Republican lawmaker said.
It's easy to understand why Republicans would invest in this argument -- national security is one of President Obama's strengths, and the GOP would love to undermine that in an election year -- but Rohrabacher appears to be deeply confused about the fact. Here's a visual, for example, that shows Pentagon budgets over the last six years, with the red columns showing defense spending under Bush, and the blue columns showing defense spending under Obama.
It's true that the administration intends to spend less on defense going forward, but the Pentagon will seek $525 billion in 2013 -- a decrease of about 1 percent. If approved, it would be the first reduction in defense spending since 1998 -- a development that would presumably draw cheers from those who want the federal government to spend less money -- but even the White House's most rapid critics would have a hard time characterizing such modest cuts as "gutting" the military. We'll still spend more on defense than most of the world's countries combined.
Indeed, as Maher tried to explain to Rohrabacher, "This year they're asking a reduction from $531 billion to $525 billion, 1.6 percent. You mean our freedom is in trouble because of that 1.6 percent? ... How paranoid do you have to be to say that this guy is gutting our military?"
It's possible that the congressman was referring to deep defense cuts scheduled to take effect as part of the "triggers" in the debt-ceiling agreement. If so, Rohrabacher is at least closer to getting the facts right -- with the failure of the so-called supercommittee, half of the $1.2 trillion in automatic debt reduction is supposed to come from the Pentagon budget.
But it's awfully tough for the GOP to blame the White House for this -- the defense cuts were suggested by congressional Republicans, not by the Democratic president.