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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Schumer Exaggerates Proposed Defense Cuts

Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York exaggerated Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to cut military spending during an exchange with Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation.”

Schumer criticized a group of conservative Republicans for proposing a bill to cut non-defense federal spending by $2.5 trillion through fiscal year 2021:

Schumer, Jan. 23: But for instance, they leave the military totally out. … But everyone knows there’s waste and inefficiency in the military budget. Defense Secretary Gates has proposed cutting a hundred fifty billion dollars out of it.

That’s false. Gates has proposed cutting the Pentagon’s budget by $78 billion, not $150 billion, and the cuts would occur over five years.

In a Jan. 6 speech at the Pentagon, Gates laid out his proposal:

Gates, Jan. 6: In all, this budget proposal anticipates a total reduction of roughly $78 billion to the Five Year Defense Plan submitted last year.

In his speech, Gates also said the Pentagon identified roughly $100 billion in "efficiency savings." This money, however, was reinvested in the military rather than cut from the overall budget.

Gates, Jan. 6: Even with this top-line reduction, we were able to adhere to the original intent of the reform initiative and permit the military services to keep and reinvest the roughly $100 billion they identified for savings.

Where did Schumer get the $150 billion figure? The White House initially sought $150 billion in cuts — but Gates balked, according to a Jan. 6 New York Times article. The Times wrote: “Mr. Gates was also able to persuade the White House to reduce its demands for cuts over the next five years to $78 billion from $150 billion.”

The co-chairmen of the president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform also called for deeper cuts in the military than those proposed by Gates. A November report issued by the co-chairmen called for $100 billion in cuts by 2015. But, as the Wall Street Journal reported, Gates criticized that plan as "math not strategy," adding that what’s needed is "a scalpel instead of a meat axe."

— Michael Morse