Republican presidential candidates agree that Islamic extremists are running rampant, the Mideast is on fire and Russia, China and Iran are flexing their muscles, yet they are far from reaching consensus on how much is enough when it comes to spending on defense.
The divisions were on stark display during Tuesday’s debate. Sen. Marco Rubio called for raising defense spending significantly. Sen. Ted Cruz wants more robust spending, but he doesn’t want to make the deficit larger. Sen. Rand Paul’s isolationist bent makes him less willing for the U.S. to get involved abroad.
Congress just approved spending $607 billion on defense next year, and the United States is still the world’s largest military spender ”at nearly three times the level of second-placed China,” according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Russia and Saudi Arabia are third and fourth, respectively.
However, the bipartisan National Defense Panel released a report last year that strongly condemned the current state of the U.S. military. It said U.S. military might has been weakened by deep budget cuts.
That has prompted U.S. allies to question the United States’ resolve on the world stage, the report said. Several candidates have embraced the panel’s findings, but few have provided their desired price tag for the Pentagon budget.
What some of the candidates have said about defense spending:
In his June speech announcing his presidential campaign, the former Florida governor said Obama was leading America into a state of ”military inferiority.” He said the nation would continue on that path until a new president rebuilt the U.S. armed forces.
”We need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future,” said Bush.
The retired neurosurgeon told conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt that the U.S. is no longer just cutting fat from the Pentagon budget, but is ”cutting into the muscle and cutting into the bone.”
Carson said he thinks the United States needs to be able to respond to at least three areas of the world simultaneously and will be in jeopardy if it can’t.
Cruz believes that the defense cuts are harming national security. ”You think defending this nation is expensive? Try not defending it,” he said during the debate.
Cruz also argues for fiscal prudence and wants to make sure that any defense increases are offset with budget cuts and don’t require tax increases.
The businesswoman says defense spending must be treated differently than other government spending.
”This is vital to protecting the interests of our nation,” she told Hewitt. ”And we must have the strongest military on the face of the planet. Everybody has to know it, which means we have to rebuild our army brigades and our Marine battalions and our Navy battleships, and we have to invest in our nuclear triad.”
The senator is a defense hawk who has repeatedly clashed with deficit hawks.
”Our ballooning national debt poses a serious threat to our national security, but failed attempts to address it by blindly and recklessly slashing military funding are equally dangerous,” Graham says on his campaign website. Budget cuts could be replaced with targeted cuts and reforms that will reduce federal spending, he says.
Paul has said America can be strong without intervening in every civil conflict around the world.
”We need a safe country, but, you know, we spend more on our military than the next 10 countries combined,” he said at the debate. ”I want a strong national defense, but I don’t want us to be bankrupt.”
The Ohio governor wants to lift the automatic spending caps on the defense budget and even spend more on the military if needed. But he’s a fiscal conservative, too.
Kasich has called for a larger defense budget, yet calls himself a ”troublemaker” who’s been at the center of battles to balance government budgets for decades.
The senator has pledged to increase defense spending to around $600 billion – the level that then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recommended in a request to the White House in 2011.
Rubio has said the military ”needs a serious program of reinvestment and modernization.”
The businessman said other nations are beating the U.S. economically and militarily.
”We have to make our military bigger, better, stronger than ever before so that nobody messes with us, and in the long run, it’s going to save us,” Trump says.
At the same time, Trump says, ”We can’t continue to be the policeman of the world. … We have a country that’s going to hell. We have an infrastructure that’s falling apart. … And we have to start investing money in our country.”