December 5, 2012

Fiscal cliff talks hint at more defense cuts

Donna Cassata / The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — House Republicans' "fiscal cliff" counteroffer to President Barack Obama hints at billions of dollars in military cuts on top of the nearly $500 billion that the White House and Congress backed last year, and even the fiercest defense hawks acknowledge that the Pentagon faces another financial hit.

click image to enlarge

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned that a meat-ax approach to the Pentagon's budget presented by sequestration would do considerable harm.

AP

The proposal that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other Republican leaders sent to the White House this week calls for cuts of $300 billion in discretionary spending to achieve savings of $2.2 trillion over 10 years. The blueprint offered no specifics on the cuts, although the Pentagon and defense-related departments such as Homeland Security and State make up roughly half of the federal government's discretionary spending.

By any credible calculation, the military, which is still coming to grips with the half-trillion-dollar cut in last year's deficit-cutting law, is looking at an additional $10 billion to $15 billion cut in projected defense spending each year for the next decade. It's a prospect that Republicans recognize is the new reality, with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ending and deficits demanding deep cuts.

"Not too devastating," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. That's especially true compared with the alternative that McCain dreads — the double hit of tax hikes and automatic spending cuts dubbed the fiscal cliff.

If Obama and Congress are unable to reach a deal this month, the Pentagon would face across-the-board cuts of some $55 billion after the first of the year and nearly $500 billion over a decade. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and military leaders have warned that such a meat-ax approach to the budget would do considerable harm.

"My job is to stop sequestration," McCain said, using the budgetary term for the automatic cuts.

Pentagon spending still has its congressional protectors, especially with job-producing weapons, aircraft and ships built in nearly every corner of the country. In the past decade, the base defense budget has nearly doubled, from $297 billion in 2001 to more than $520 billion. The amount does not include the billions spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cuts Obama and Congress are talking about would be to projected spending that envisioned Pentagon budgets rising to levels of more than $700 billion a year in a decade. Tea partyers and fiscal conservatives recently elected to Congress have shown a willingness to cut defense, traditionally considered almost untouchable.

"We understand that in getting to an agreement that drives down the debt ... that there are going to be cuts," said Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., president of the 2010 freshman class in the House. "Making cuts strategically makes sense. Doing it through sequestration does not make sense.

"I would argue that intelligence, especially with regard to cybersecurity, is probably an area where we need to spend more money," Scott added. "I'm worried more about China using viruses and technology against our country than I am about their aircraft carriers. At the same time, look at other areas of the military and say, 'When is the next time we really need that weapon system?'"

Said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., of additional cuts, "Potentially, yes, but not a trillion."

Lawmakers who are realistic about defense cuts suddenly have some significant reinforcements.

A coalition of prominent Republicans and Democrats, including former defense, state and treasury secretaries as well as military and congressional leaders, made an urgent plea Tuesday to Obama and Congress to reach a deal on the nation's finances.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at KJonline.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)