The Debt Ceiling Deal, the “Trigger,” and Defense Budget Cuts
The “Debt Ceiling Deal,” a compromise negotiated by Republicans and Democrats over this past week-end (30, 31 July, 11) proposes, among other things, a $350 billion cut in the defense budget over the next ten years. That proposal is bad enough, but … the “deal” also establishes a bi-partisan Congressional committee that will look for ways (determine a path) to cut an additional $1.5 trillion. If that committee fails to reach an agreement, or should Congress fail to enact a plan to reduce spending, an automatic reduction (the “trigger”) in spending will occur, with half coming from domestic spending (about $600 Billion) and half (about $600 billion on TOP of the $350 billion already cut) coming from the defense budget. Overall, defense comprises about 20% of the entire US budget. In 2010, defense spent $530 billion, not including war costs.
“The bottom line is these [initial] cuts [of $350 billion] are not life-altering for the Pentagon,” said Gordon Adams, a professor at American University who specialized in defense spending. “They live to fight another day.” Still, even with cuts of that magnitude, the military would retain its position as the world’s best fighting force, with unmatched capabilities on land, at sea and in the air. But that is of little comfort to defense hawks on Capitol Hill.
But the real pain will come if Congress can’t or won’t agree on a second round of general budget cuts. If that happens, the “trigger” will be pulled and defense will get hit with another $600 billion in cuts over 10 years. “In a scenario where a trigger is activated, you are dealing with cuts far beyond what the Pentagon wanted,” Travis Sharp, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said.
Republican congressmen on the House Armed Services Committee are already denigrating defense budget cuts, saying they risk military readiness. And Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday, “If fully implemented, the consequences to our nation’s defense infrastructure would be severe. And these deep cuts would come at a time when threats to our nation are increasing, not declining.”
Affects of Budget Cuts On Defense
Said John Bolton on July 31, 2011, “Defense has already taken hugely disproportionate cuts under President Obama, and there is simply no basis for expanding those cuts further. Republican negotiators must hold the line, since the Obama Administration plainly will not.”
Army General Martin Dempsey warned that it would be “extraordinarily difficult and very high risk” to cut $800 billion from defense spending as part of efforts to reduce the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt. He continued in his Senate nomination hearing, “National security didn’t cause the debt crisis nor will it solve it.”
General Joseph Dunford, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, said, “I think if they were to exceed $400 billion we would start to have to make some fundamental changes in the capability of the Marine Corps. That would mean a smaller force and a reassessment of its strategic mission.”
General Philip Breedlove, vice chief of staff of the Air Force, said cuts of $400 billion will cause “quite some concern” about money to replace the Air Force’s aging aircraft fleet. Strategic bombers are, on average, 34 years old, refueling tankers 47 years old, and airlift planes 19 years old.
Senator John McCain criticized the pressure to cut military spending without first understanding the impact on strategy. Said McCain, “Defense spending is not what is sinking this country into fiscal crisis, and if the Congress and the president act on that flawed assumption, they will create a situation that is truly unaffordable: the hollowing out of U.S. military power and the loss of faith of our military members.”
Our enemies will take advantage of this “hollowed out” weakness. We will have to spend much more in the future to catch up, fight off threats, and lower our heightened risk.
The Choice Between Defense and Entitlements
Liberals see our nation’s security as a bargaining chip and fail to recognize that defense spending is not the cause of the problem, and that these cuts put our troops and our national security at risk. Observers know the problem is entitlement spending, not the defense budget or a lack of revenue. Defense spending is, at most, 5.2% of GDP, despite wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) grew from 2.5 percent of GDP in 1965 to over 10 percent today.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) said, “The Army and Marines are stretched dangerously thin, separated from their families, and using hardware that has been chewed up by a decade of fighting.” Randy Forbes (R-VA) said: “If they have to make these cuts it’ll have to come out of personnel, and they’ll have to reduce their force structure, and they’ll have to have a new strategy for how they defend the United States of America.” Congressman Allen West (R-FL) called potential defense cuts “incredible” and “unconscionable.”
Congressional conservatives fought to achieve a balanced budget, while protecting our defenses, and without raising taxes. But the final “deal,” favored by liberals on Capitol Hill and in the White House, sets up America for the worst possible outcome – job-killing tax hikes and safety-risking defense cuts – while entitlement spending continues to rise.
But that’s just my opinion.