The legislation signed by President Obama on Tuesday, as a solution to the debt ceiling debate, includes the possibility of cuts to military spending. But as Chris Preble points out, the legislation guarantees no defense cuts. Republicans will try to dump all the required cuts on non-defense areas. And the White House has already distanced itself from the prospect of any real defense budget cuts, as did Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Both support only the first round of cuts, which will at best halt Pentagon growth at roughly inflation.
An op-ed by Peter Singer and Michael O’Hanlon in today’s Politico questions the impact of spending cuts on the military. “Substantial defense budget cuts are possible, make no mistake,” the Brookings’ scholars concede, “But they could mean loss of capability, and some may increase security risks.”
Amidst the wrangling over a debt deal between the White House and Congress, the most interesting movement pertains to military spending. Several reports today suggest that up to $700 billion in military spending cuts is under consideration, which would amount to a bit more than 10 percent less than current projections over the next 10 years. A more realistic bottom line might be $300 billion, which could be achieved by allowing the budget to grow at the rate of inflation (in other words, no real cuts in spending).
Last week, a motion to proceed on a budget resolution introduced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was decisively defeated in the Senate (7 in favor, 90 opposed). Paul’s proposal would have balanced the budget in five years (fiscal year 2016) through spending cuts and no tax increases. Social Security and Medicare would not have been altered. Instead, the proposal merely instructed relevant congressional committees to enact reforms that would achieve “solvency” over a 75-year window.
For all the boldness of Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal to reduce projected federal expenditures by $6 trillion, an initiative that I support, the Pentagon’s budget emerges essentially unscathed in Ryan’s plan. This is a mistake on both fiscal and strategic grounds. Significant cuts in military spending must be on the table as the nation struggles to close its fiscal gap without saddling individuals and businesses with burdensome taxes and future generations with debt. Such cuts will also force a reappraisal of our military’s roles and missions that is long overdue.
Last year the House Republican leadership created the GOP’s “YouCut” website, which offers several possible spending cuts for citizens to vote on. The cut with the most votes goes to the House floor for an up-or-down vote. It’s a decent idea, but unfortunately, most of the cuts the GOP have offered thus far only amount to chump change.
I recently discussed corruption in the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program, which sets aside federal contracts for minority-owned or other “disadvantaged” small businesses. A ProPublica investigation into set-asides for Alaskan Native Corporations found that subcontractors and large companies in the other 49 states have been reaping the financial benefits.
The Washington Post recently featured an op-ed by Reps. James McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) on the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. This particular bipartisan pairing isn’t particularly noteworthy; the two men have collaborated before. But the arguments presented in the piece — one set designed to appeal to conservatives, the other aimed at liberals — have the potential to join together a much broader left-right coalition in opposition to an open-ended mission that, according to McGovern and Jones, has already cost U.S. taxpayers $450 billion dollars, and whose costs are accumulating at a rate of nearly $10 billion every month.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is poised to axe or significantly restructure a number of high-profile weapons platforms, and otherwise rein in the Pentagon’s budget. The reports present these initiatives as intended to preempt greater scrutiny of the military’s budget by Congress.