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Rebuttal of the “sequestration is just a spending growth rate cut” lie

Ever since the sequester’s inception in August 2011 under the Budget Control Act, many ignorant people, including many anti-defense hacks (such as Mercatus Center’s Veronique de Rugy, AmSpec’s Matt Purple, HumanEvents’ David Harsanyi, POGO’s Danielle Brian, TIME magazine’s Mark Thompson, Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and CATO Institute anti-defense hacks) have falsely and repeatedly claimed that sequestration, even WRT defense spending, is a mere cut in the rate of growth, not a real-term cut. They have been repeating that lie incessantly since the sequester’s inception.

But repeating a lie 100 times doesn’t make it true, contrary to the opinion of their godfather Joseph Goebbels. It’s still a blatant lie, and the people spreading it are children of the Father of Lies himself.

For the purposes of this article, a spending cut is defined the way reasonable people would define it: as a situation whereby next year’s spending level is lower than previous year’s.

Also, as always, I will look at the sequester’s impact on defense spending throughout the next decade (FY2013-FY2022), NOT merely at the remainder of FY2013 or on FY2014. The entire decade matters – especially given that some of sequestration’s consequences will not emerge immediately, but later on during the Sequestration Decade.

Sequestration, for those not yet familiar with it, is an automatic process whereby the discretionary portion of the federal budget (but not the mandatory portion, i.e. not entitlements or debt interest) will be significantly and automatically cut – and by far the heaviest cuts, over 60% of the total, will fall on the defense budget. This will reduce defense spending deeply below today’s levels ($525 bn)  in a salami-slicing manner – by automatically cutting everything outside military personnel accounts by 10%. The DOD is not allowed any flexibility in where to make the cuts; it is obligated to cut everything, no matter how important (or unimportant) by 10%. (Not that such deep cuts could be done safely even in a targeted manner, but that’s another story.)

The most accurate, most authoritative report on this subject to date has been compiled by the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO published that report on July 11th, 2012 – almost a year after the BCA became law.

In that report, in Table 1-4, which you can find on page 11, the CBO says what exact caps would there be for defense (and nondefense discretionary) spending under each year from FY2013 through FY2022. The CBO gives such figures in both nominal dollars (unadjusted for inflation) and real-term dollars (i.e. adjusted for inflation, which erodes the value of the dollar over time – significantly over a decade).

In inflation-adjusted, real-term dollars, the lowered budget caps under sequestration for defense would be as follows: $469 bn in FY2013,  $472 bn in FY2014, $475 bn in FY2015, $477 bn in FY2016, $480 in FY2017, $483 bn in FY2018, $485 bn in FY2019, $487 bn in FY2020, $489 bn in FY2021, and $493 bn in FY2022.

The current (pre-sequestration FY2013) budget cap for base defense spending is $525 bn.

This means that by FY2022, at the end of the “Sequestration Decade”, the defense budget will still be $32 bn SMALLER than it is today, and a year earlier, in FY2021, when Veronique de Rugy falsely claims it will be 18% larger, it will actually be $34 bn (i.e. 6.47%) SMALLER than it is today.

Below is a graph nicely illustrating this, also courtesy of the CBO:

defensebudgetaccordingtothecbo2

Nor is sequestration the first real-term cut to defense spending since 2009. Already the first tranche of cuts mandated by the BCA required real-term (though not deep) cuts to defense spending: from $531 bn in FY2012 to $525 bn today. So today’s defense budget, even before sequestration, is already smaller than last year’s.

Nor does adding defense programs outside the DOD’s budget (and there aren’t many of them) to the mix help those who pooh-pooh sequestration. If such programs’ budgets (which, by the way, are ALSO subject to sequestration) are added to defense budgets for later years, they must also be included in this year’s pre-sequestration budget. Which means that the depth of the cuts (and their realness) remains the same, only the starting and final numbers change slightly.

Nor can the DOD and the Congress look to war (OCO) accounts to shore up the base defense budgets, because war accounts, like all discretionary spending, are ALSO subject to sequestration. That’s the problem with sequestration: it treats the entire military budget, and all other national-security-related spending, as sequestrable. Unspent balances from previous years are also subject to sequestration.

Therefore, the DOD and the Congress cannot increase war spending to patch up base defense budget accounts; doing so would require changing the sequestration mechamism itself, and with it, the Budget Control Act itself.

It needs to be stated one more time, to refute the libertarian lie: SEQUESTRATION IS NOT A MERE REDUCTION IN THE RATE OF GROWTH OF DEFENSE SPENDING. UNDER SEQUESTRATION, THERE WILL BE NO GROWTH IN DEFENSE SPENDING AT ALL, COMPARED TO TODAY’S LEVELS. UNDER SEQUESTRATION, DEFENSE SPENDING WILL STILL BE DEEPLY BELOW TODAY’S LEVEL A DECADE FROM NOW, IN FY2022.

Any claim to the contrary is a blatant lie, and the people spreading such lies are children of the Father of Lies himself.

For more on sequestration, see this.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Tyler says:

    I’ve only got one question, why is that bad?
    there is absolutely no reason that we need to be spending 500bn (or even 469bn) on our military. or anything for that matter. that having been said, a 100bn dollar slash may be a mite to fast.

  2. Patrick Trombly says:

    You’re the liar. The federal government WILL spend more in 2013 than 2012, more in 2014 than 2013, more in 2015 than 2014. Within that total, faster increases to some portions of the budget mean slower increases, or even cuts, to other portions of the budget – but the total budget will INCREASE. If someone supposedly on a diet, eating 21 pieces of pizza per week, who had planned to start eating 28 pieces, instead starts eating 24, that is not a cut – - even if he reduces the number of mushroom slices to support an increase in pepperoni slices. It’s not a “cut – not the way anyone defines that word outside of Washington. It’s less of an increase than what was planned. Period.

    • Zbigniew Mazurak says:

      This article is about the defense budget, not the total federal budget.

      The total federal budget will increase, that much is true – but DEFENSE SPENDING will be cut DEEPLY and IMMEDIATELY in 2 days – in real terms. On March 1st, the defense budget will be cut from $525 bn today all the way down to $469 bn – the lowest level since 2003 – and will remain significantly below today’s level (in real terms, not in nominal dollars unadjusted for inflation) for the remainder of the sequestration decade (and probably long thereafter). By FY2022, it will still be at $493 bn – $32 bn below today’s level.