Paul’s right on the money with tab for foreign policy
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele sparked a political frenzy recently when he alleged that President Barack Obama is responsible for continued U.S. participation in the war in Afghanistan and questioned the prospects of a U.S. victory in the region.
The comments prompted several calls for Steele’s resignation among Republicans and conservative pundits.
Steele does, however, have at least one defender: Ron Paul, an outspoken Republican representative from Lake Jackson and a former presidential candidate.
Asked about the comments in a July 5 CNN interview, Paul talked about what he sees as widespread public disapproval of the war, including its detrimental financial impact on the United States.
“We’re spending $1 trillion a year on our
foreign policy,” Paul commented. That caught our attention.
Paul’s office sent us an article written by Robert Higgs, a scholar at the Independent Institute, a libertarian-leaning economic research organization.
Higgs argues that looking at how much money goes to the Department of Defense is insufficient. One also has to include the appropriations for the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons program, the Department of State, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the interest payments attributable to past debt-financed defense spending, among other expenses, to get a handle on total foreign affairs spending. Crunching the numbers for 2009, Higgs came up with a total that’s slightly over $1 trillion.
We consulted numerous defense budget experts on the issue. They all agreed that it depends largely on how one defines “foreign policy.” Changing the definition means changing the programs that one includes in the calculation.
Winslow Wheeler from the Center for Defense Information sent us a table that details the “U.S. security” expenses for 2010. The total comes out to $1.2 trillion. The calculation includes the interest on the Department of Defense Retiree Health Care Fund and on debt-financed defense spending.
Cindy Williams, a principal research scientist at the MIT Security Studies Program, told us to check out her presentation on historical U.S. defense and foreign affairs spending trends. Projected spending for national defense programs, homeland security programs and international affairs initiatives totals $841 billion for this year. Add in the VA budget of $125 billion, and we get $966 billion. Williams said that she wouldn’t include the interest payments attributable to past debt-financed defense spending in her own analysis, “since there is no good way to judge whether debt accumulated because we spent too much on security or because we raised too little in taxes.”
We also checked with Stephen Donahoe from the Friends Committee on National Legislation, an antiwar lobby. Donahoe told us that their own calculations do not include the entire State Department budget. Still, taking into account Pentagon spending and money that goes into nuclear defense programs, Veterans Affairs, interest payments on defense-related debt, and other related expenses that are scattered throughout the budget, the group arrives at about $1 trillion. The committee acknowledges on its website that the number varies across groups that track defense spending.
Finally, the folks at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget crunched the numbers for us. They came up with a total of $935 billion for 2010 and $950 billion for 2011, based on estimates by the Congressional Budget Office. Those totals include the Department of Defense, overseas contingency operations, the State Department and other international programs and “a few other agencies and programs typically included in a ‘security’ budget.”
In the end, the accuracy of Paul’s statement that the United States spends $1 trillion a year on foreign policy largely depends on one’s definition of “foreign policy.” Still, give or take, most of the numbers that the experts threw at us come relatively close to, or even exceed, the $1 trillion mark.
We find that Paul’s underlying point is valid, and rate this one True.
Statement: ‘We’re spending $1 trillion a year on our foreign policy.’