Heritage’s James Carafano recently wrote that President Obama’s proposed defense cuts are tantamount to a gift to America’s enemies. These cuts reduce America’s military capabilities in a dangerous world and bring greater risk to the nation.
The President’s new defense budget raises the risk level for the U.S. and its allies. In his budget preview, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged this reality. Prior to this, military officials had already raised red flags. For example, during General Martin Dempsey’s confirmation hearing to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he characterized impending cuts as “extraordinarily difficult and very high risk.”
Carafano states that it is important to wring inefficiencies out of Pentagon spending—but not at the expense of national security. Libya is the case in point. The Department of Defense said it spent about half a billion dollars to oust Muammar Qadhafi; however, it requested authority to reprogram only about $80 million in spending. To pay for the Libya war, “[t]he Pentagon robbed training, maintenance and operations accounts and that resulted in shortfalls that directly reduce military readiness. It is like shorting the mortgage payment to pay your credit cards.”
Contrary to popular belief, there is not a lot of money just sitting around at the Pentagon. While undoubtedly there are areas of waste in the defense program, the President’s defense budget is overwhelmingly about reducing U.S. military capabilities. Of course Congress should strive to make the federal government efficient; however, slashing defense spending should not be confused with wise fiscal policy.
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley recently described the “increased risk” under the defense budget as “manageable,” “provided there are no further reductions.” Unfortunately, an additional $500 billion is slated to be slashed from the defense budget over the next 10 years due to the sequestration provision in the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. This is on top of the $487 billion in reduced defense spending over the next 10 years under the BCA. The sequestration provision is now law, and the President has threatened to veto any bills that would mitigate it. Two such bills have been introduced in Congress, one in the House and one in the Senate offering a one-year fix. Both are admirable efforts and seek to stop the bleeding from the BCA.
The problem with taking on levels of increased risk is that the enemy gets a vote: They can decide how and where they will fight and will almost certainly exploit vulnerabilities. Overall, the defense cuts under Obama are taking the military down a path of reduced readiness and, ultimately, toward a hollow force. It is impossible to balance the federal budget on the backs of the military, because the defense budget already accounts for more than 50 percent of the reductions—despite representing less than 20 percent of the total federal budget. These cuts have taken place at the same time domestic spending has exploded.
Carafano concludes that “Even the White House acknowledges that the additional cuts imposed under the Budget Control Act will endanger national security. It, however, wants a long-term budget deal that includes big tax increases. Many in Congress won’t go along. Holding national security hostage over tax policy is just unacceptable.”
Fred Ferreira is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm