A recent article by the Associated Press leaves the reader with the impression that there haven’t been any defense cuts since the 1990s and that defense spending has not been “on the table” in recent deficit-reduction efforts. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The article states that the cuts to defense under the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, beginning in 2013, are “the first outright cuts since the so-called peace dividend of the early 1990s.” In reality, defense budgets have already been cut, are being cut now, and will be cut even further in the future.
In fact, since President Obama has been in office, the Administration has lowered the defense budget baseline by some $850 billion over a 10-year period. The cuts under the BCA now threaten to “hollow out” the military and leave America unprepared in an increasingly uncertain and volatile international environment.
The BCA established caps on spending for national security and discretionary spending over the next 10 years. Pentagon officials have stated that in implementing the first round of cuts under the BCA, the Administration is cutting roughly $489 billion from what the Pentagon (as of February 2011) had planned to spend on its core budget over the next 10 years. In addition, the law mandates a “sequestration” process, which will impose a $500 billion or more across-the-board cut to the defense account over the nine-year period covering fiscal years 2013–2021.
The problem with keeping track of cuts to defense is that what the President states is a cut one day, he does not recognize as a cut the next. This budgetary sleight of hand permits the Administration to deny that it imposed any cuts on the defense program, since the baseline is the starting point for calculating “cuts.” As a practical matter, Congress acquiesced in letting the Obama Administration set the defense budget baseline at whatever level it wants. In reality, reductions in the baseline are cuts.
The Administration has cut, cancelled, or delayed more than 30 major weapons programs. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke about these cuts: “All told, over the past two years, more than 30 programs were cancelled, capped, or ended that, if pursued to completion, would have cost more than $300 billion.”
In a major policy speech last April praising these cuts, President Obama declared that he wanted to cut defense by another $400 billion. This was to be accomplished by conducting a “fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world.” The review just arrived, and it is called “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for the 21st Century Defense.” This new defense “strategy” is clearly a budget-driven exercise masquerading as a strategic plan. It is a rubber stamp for the defense cuts, and is intended to steer Department of Defense decision-making as it implements the $489 billion in cuts over the next 10 years.
What makes the President’s strategy even more problematic, however, is that it doesn’t account for the defense “sequestration” mandated by the BCA, which imposes automatic across-the-board cuts—including roughly half a trillion or more in the defense budget. Defense officials have openly stated that the new “strategy” would not apply if those reductions go into effect. Therefore, the new strategy isn’t even worth the paper it’s written on. It’s little more than a gimmick to hide (at least until Election Day) the fact that Defense is being slammed.
The problem is that the sequestration is now the law of the land. And President Obama has said he will “veto any effort” to get rid of the automatic spending cuts mandated by the sequestration. This is no minor point: The Secretary of Defense and a host of defense officials have repeatedly warned about the consequences of defense sequestration. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said it “would do catastrophic damage to our military and its ability to protect this country…and guarantees that we will hollow out the force.” There’s no question that it will have a devastating effect on readiness, modernization programs, and research and development.
Despite popular perceptions, defense spending has already been “on the table.” Defense counts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget but already totals more than 50 percent of Washington’s deficit-reduction efforts, while domestic spending has exploded. Gutting defense will not solve America’s budget problems.
Gutting the military as part of a deficit-reduction plan may end up costing taxpayers more in the future if it makes the country less safe and increases the risk of another terrorist attack or the likelihood of drawing U.S. forces into yet another overseas mission.