Editor’s Note: Part of the CNN Republican debate fact-checking series
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum criticized President Barack Obama, saying he has cut benefits for the country’s veterans while leaving social welfare programs untouched, during Thursday night’s CNN presidential debate in South Carolina.
The statement: “We have the president of the United States who said he is going to cut veterans benefits, cut our military, at a time when these folks are four, five, six, seven tours, coming back, in and out of jobs, sacrificing everything for this country. And the president of the United States can’t cut one penny out of the social welfare system and he wants to cut a trillion dollars out of our military and hit our veterans, and that’s disgusting.” – Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
The Obama administration has struggled to bring down a staggering – and growing – budget deficit since taking office in 2009. Depressed tax revenues due to the 2007-2009 recession, spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, increased aid to the unemployed and the last of Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus bill helped the deficit swell to a projected $1.3 trillion for the fiscal year 2011.
The 2010 election put added pressure on the administration as anti-tax, anti-spending Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, resulting in three budgetary standoffs between Congress and the White House in 2011.
Obama has in fact proposed a series of budget cuts, to the dismay of many of his own supporters. In September, he proposed wringing more than $300 billion from Medicare and Medicaid – the federal health-care programs for the poor and elderly – as part of an effort to reduce the deficit by $3 trillion over the next decade. In August, his budget chief warned government agencies to brace for cuts of 5% to 10% for 2013. And in January 2010, the administration proposed savings of $250 billion by freezing all nonsecurity discretionary spending for three years.
The departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs were exempted from that proposal. But the administration projects it will save $1.1 trillion on defense in the coming 10 years – largely because the war in Iraq is over, and U.S. troops are being pulled back from Afghanistan.
And Obama has proposed increases in federal spending on veterans. Its 2012 budget request was up 10.6% “to meet increased need” by Americans who have served in the military over the past decade, and a 3.5% increase is projected for 2013.
One cloud on the horizon is the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts now hanging over the heads of Congress. Half of that will fall on the Pentagon unless negotiators come up with a different plan. But that won’t happen until 2013 and can be averted if lawmakers can cut projected deficits by an equal amount.
The verdict: False. Santorum is wrong on two counts. Obama has proposed cuts to significant portions of the U.S. safety net, while adding spending on veterans benefits to accommodate the large number of returning American veterans. And a big portion of the planned defense cuts come from the end of two long-running wars.
CNN’s Matt Smith and Lindsey Knight contributed to this report.