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Paul Ryan Blames Defense Budget for Military Accidents

When he announced he wouldn’t run for reelection, House Speaker Paul Ryan cited [1] his role in increasing defense spending as one of his two major accomplishments (the other was cutting taxes). The speaker justified [2] these massive hikes in the FY2018 defense budget—which brought total defense spending to $700 billion—by referencing the tragic deaths of 17 sailors on the Navy destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS John McCain, as well as two Navy airmen [3] in an F/A-18 crash off of Key West and seven servicemen [4] in a March helicopter crash in Iraq.

In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in January, Ryan claimed [2] that 80 lives were lost to military training accidents in 2017, more than four times the number lost in combat. In his view, these accidents were caused by a readiness crisis that resulted from the cuts imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011. On March 22, as Congress was getting ready to vote on the $1.3 trillion FY2018 discretionary budget, Ryan, who is normally not involved in the defense debate, went even further. He claimed [2] that in the past week alone nine more Americans had lost their lives because of this lack of funding. And in the week after the budget passed, four more military aircraft crashed, killing five more military personnel and spurring several more military experts [5] to support Ryan’s view.

Ryan’s statements indicate a lack of understanding over the relationship between the size and distribution of the defense budget and training accidents. For example, in 1985 at the peak of the Reagan defense buildup, more than 1,400 military people died in these types of accidents. Similarly, a decade later when the defense budget hit its post-Cold War low, the number of deaths declined [6] by more than half to 433 in 1997.

Moreover, even if we accept Ryan’s reasons for increasing the FY2018 defense budget by $56 billion over the administration’s request to $700 billion, very little of the extra money will actually go to addressing readiness. For example, Congress added [7] $3 billion to the Navy’s ship building request, $3.3 billion to the Missile Defense Program, 20 additional F-35’s, 10 F/A-18’s, and 8 V-22’s, but only $853 million, or less than 1 percent, to the O&M (Operations and Maintenance) account, which funds maintenance and training.

What people like the speaker need to realize is that accidents happen on the path to ensuring our military is ready to carry out its current and future missions. One of the reasons the services provide hazardous duty pay to aviators (which I received) is because there is a risk in flying planes even on routine training missions.

Therefore, Ryan and his colleagues should not have supported large increases in defense spending on the basis that it will eliminate non-combat deaths. In fact, by historical standards [6] the 80 non-combat deaths in 2017 is a comparatively low number, far less than a decade ago when 465 died in training accidents. And during the Cold War more than 1,000 men and women died each year, more than in combat during the Korean War and almost as many as died in Vietnam. It would seem that more money, not less, correlates with the high number of accidents each year.

Ryan’s argument that readiness has been impacted by reductions in the defense budget caused by the Budget Control Act is also without merit. Over the past four years, the Pentagon received more than $200 billion [8] in relief from the Budget Control Act. In addition it used about half of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO, or war fighting) account, or another $100 billion, to fund items that have nothing to do with our current conflicts.

Finally, there is no readiness crisis. Even though the generals and admirals who run the services routinely complain about it, the senior enlisted leaders on the front lines of combat who suffer the most casualties in wartime say it is overblown. General David Petraeus and Michael O’Hanlon agree. Both argue that our military not only doesn’t have a readiness crisis, but is “awesome” [9] and does not need large increases. [8]


What Speaker Ryan and his successor should focus on is the exploding national debt, which used to be a priority for Ryan, and which Admiral Michael Mullen, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents Bush and Obama, calls [10] the greatest threat to our national security. They should also take a look at the waste and mismanagement in the Defense Department, which has still neither issued nor passed a clean audit since Congress mandated it do so 28 years ago.

Dr. Lawrence J. Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and served as assistant secretary of defense from 1981 through 1985.

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "Paul Ryan Blames Defense Budget for Military Accidents"

#1 Comment By georgina davenport On April 27, 2018 @ 12:10 am

The money is going to the military industrial complex, not the soldiers who get hurt and die defending us.

#2 Comment By Youknowho On April 27, 2018 @ 8:15 am

By the way, to criticize the tax cuts is heresy to him, and woe to the Man of God who dissents


One wonders why do Christians vote Republican…..

#3 Comment By Will Harrington On April 27, 2018 @ 10:04 am


Why do Christians vote Republican? The answer is obvious. They are voting against Democrats and have no other viable option. This is the way our elites like it. Keep the people to scared to actually explore the possibility of other parties. This limits the number of politicians that need to be bought off.

#4 Comment By Youknowho On April 27, 2018 @ 10:56 am

@Will Harrington

This Ryan episode reminds me when Elizabeth I heard a sermon she did not like. She told the preacher not to forget who had given him the post and who could take it away.

If Christians do not realize the danger of becoming the lapdog of those in power, then they are conspiring in their own destruction

#5 Comment By Kent On April 27, 2018 @ 11:02 am

@georgina davenport,

“The money is going to the military industrial complex, not the soldiers who get hurt and die defending us.”

They are not defending us. No one wants to hurt us. They are defending American corporate interests in the world that want to do business on their terms, in their best interests, not on the terms preferred by the local population.

Fortunately, soldiering for the USA actually has a lower death and injury rate than professional fishing. Our real heroes.

#6 Comment By b. On April 27, 2018 @ 12:18 pm

“Petraeus and O’Hanlon agree.”

The author does unnecessary and disproportionate harm to his valuable and relevant cause by appealing to the non-authority of two of the most appalling careerist war profiteers in recent history.

He also employs the “Efficiency Gambit” that is at the core of the Obama and Clinton cons of avoiding an honest account of problems and conflicts by pretending the issue is not the policy decisions regarding resource allocations, but merely “inefficiency and waste” resulting from resource allocations that are taken for granted.

The root of the problem is not that the Pentagon and the DoD “waste” money, it is that our “Department of Offense” as such is a waste of resources and a betrayal of the founding principles of this nation – a malignant influence that Eisenhower would have called the congressional-military-industrial complex if he had had the courage. This has, by virtue of our nuclear arsenal, our refusal to negotiate in good faith with Russia, our launch-on-warning policy and our first strike ambitions and attempts to neutralize the deterrents of other nations, become the one actual existential threat to the US, and that we finance it with debt is just an ironic twist on the nuclear jubilee we are overspending ourselves towards.

To borrow a phrase from a related domain, our debt-financed offense spending escalation is the supreme international budgetary crime, differing only from other policy crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

#7 Comment By One Guy On April 27, 2018 @ 1:43 pm

Politicians don’t need to tell the truth, as long as they tell their voters what those voters want to hear. I won’t bore you with hundreds of examples from our current leader with the phony cloud over his head which doesn’t exist.

#8 Comment By D. Pell On April 27, 2018 @ 4:35 pm

Increasing funding leads to more training, training is dangerous, so more funding=more injuries. More training also leads to more effective forces and fewer combat injuries (we hope).

#9 Comment By Clyde Schechter On April 27, 2018 @ 7:06 pm

Really, the data presented in this story do not support any conclusions at all about the relationship between defense funding and deaths in training accidents. That requires a different approach.

When more training is taking place, all else equal, there will be more accidents and more deaths related to training. But training is likely to be taking place more during times of military build-ups, which, in turn entail more military spending. So to draw any conclusions, the analysis needs to adjust for the amount of training going on in each time period. There are various ways that this could be modeled, and this is not the place to go into those details. But a direct comparison of the military budget with training deaths is useless, no matter which direction things appear to go.

#10 Comment By Miguel On April 27, 2018 @ 9:59 pm

Wow, o many things I agree with, both in the article and the commentaries. I know it will sound like a sarcasm but I mean it: in this web site I find what I would like to hear from the U.S.

I agree a lot with “b.”; nowadays, I, living in Venezuela, am more afraid about the U.S. than the chineses, the russians, the north koreans or the islamists. Not only because Obama, apparently, claimed that Venezuela was a “clear a present danger”, but also because Trump has also proposed, more than once to my knowledge, to end the “venezuelan problem” with a military intervention.

An intervention that other South American presidents have rejected, thanks God (yes, I am a believer). Sure, our situation here is pretty bad, but if you ask me, with what I have heard that heppened in former wars, like the Spanish civil War or the Second World War, and i mean the front and the way people in the “civil front” reacted, I have more than enough to thanks God we are living this, instead of what the Afghanians, the Iraqies, the Lybians or the Syrians are bearing.

No, please!! I don’t want democracy defenders, freedom fighters or human right restorers like those countries know them!! The current bad government is better, or less bad, which has become the same.

Getting into the theme of the article, I don’t know if the issue with the -regretable, as with any other human death- casualties during military training has to do with more or less funding, or with more or less funding for maintenance cost versus new projects; I think the real factor is that, when you have a believable menace, as the Soviet Union -besides of the fact that it couldn’t, in any meaning of the word, afford a war with the States- you build up your military spenditure and activity, and due to a statistical issue, the sad ammount of casualties has to increase. When you lack such a real, Clausewiztschean enemy, you cannot do as much military everything, and the numbers are mean to drop. In every respect.

And about little, never ending wars all around the World, that makes it less understandable why Reagan administration broguht the final, fatal economic blow to the Soviet Union. It was the “necessary enemy”, and was a very stable State in its own!!! Not a bunch of terrorists. The only clue that I have is that, apparently, U.S. billionaries don’t like to invest in “open markests”, so it was better for them if the Cold War “ended”, the USSR collapsed, the military budgedt diminished and the number of large military industry’s companies were reduced.

Just that then, a “new enemy” would be necessary.

#11 Comment By Youknowho On April 28, 2018 @ 8:34 am

I am sorry to highjack this thread, but it surprises me that no one in TAC has anything to say about Paul Ryan’s sacking of the chaplain.

Even Rod Dreher is more interested in what goes on is some campuses than about the fact that the Speaker of the House pulled a Henry VIII (“The Pope does not do what I ask, so I make myself Pope”) because he did not like a prayer. What does Dreher think happens to religious liberty when secular leaders tell religious ones what they can or cannot say? Is God supposed to obey Caesar?

Add to it that anti-Catholicism is rearing its head again in the House of Representatives.


Translation “No Popery!”

Dreher, with all his fears about persecution should remember that the Church can withstand persecution better than corruption. Paul Ryan is corrupting the Church, to make it into an obedient servant of his.

#12 Comment By Emil Bogdan On April 28, 2018 @ 9:10 pm

It’s strange how the Russians get so much bang for their defense bucks. The Pentagon should ask themselves how the hell Russia manages to deter us so efficiently on a shoestring budget.

#13 Comment By this isn’t over On April 28, 2018 @ 10:45 pm

Right, Mr. Ryan: the reason our troops keep dying in accidents is because we only spend more money on defense than the next eight largest defense-spending nations in the world combined.

I mean really, how stupid does Ryan think we are? He obviously doesn’t think we’re stupid enough to re-elect him after his grotesque budget, but he still seems to think he’s much smarter than we are.

There must be a way to punish the malfeasance of this jerk. He can’t be permitted to just slink off to Wall Street and get rich telling foreigners how to rip off America.

#14 Comment By Ernest Martinson On April 29, 2018 @ 7:06 am

Both General Petraeus and Michael O’Hanlon argue that our military does not have a readiness crisis. I am sure the military also stands ready to put down uprisings on the home front. Gun control allows the military to check resistance with minimal bloodshed.

#15 Comment By Hexexis On April 29, 2018 @ 3:19 pm

I can recall seeing some Marine Corps newsletter back around 2006 (I was civ. employee of the Corps) that more that 6,000 troops had been injured in what were called “noncombat” incidents. For some odd reason, I doubt those were due to insufficient funding.