The automatic spending cuts passed by Congress and signed by the president were designed as leverage to bring both parties to the table to negotiate a deal. Republicans wouldn’t be able to stomach reductions in the Pentagon budget, and Democrats would want to protect spending on domestic programs. More than two months after the cuts went into effect, it’s clear that strategy was a failure.
It hasn’t helped that many Democrats (including the administration) have joined the hyperbolic chorus lamenting how devastating sequestration would be for our national security. After more than a decade of war and outrageous increases in spending, reshaping the Pentagon budget should be a priority regardless of sequestration. Across the board cuts aren’t the most strategic way to go about it, but the administration and Congress have thus far failed to step up to the plate and propose smart savings in the Pentagon.
Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee did that cause a disservice by releasing a report exaggerating the impact of the sequester on national security. While acknowledging the impact of domestic cuts, it follows the distressing pattern of putting concerns about the Pentagon at the top.
Pentagon spending reductions are hurting the US economy more than other spending cuts mandated under sequestration, say House Democrats, who appear poised to inject such effects into the 2014 midterm election narrative.
Citing Congressional Budget Office data, the House Appropriations Committee Democrats’ report projects the first year of the defense and domestic sequestration cuts are on pace to “reduce economic growth at an annual rate of 0.6 [percent] and cost about 750,000 jobs in 2013.”
“Using sequestration to reduce the deficit is counterproductive because it requires 20 [percent] of its spending cuts before the economy is expected to recover, costing jobs and thereby weakening deficit reduction efforts,” states the Democratic report.
And there is no bigger driver than sequestration’s national defense cuts, according to the report, which examines the economic effects of the decade-spanning defense and domestic spending reductions.
The reductions mandated by the sequester would bring Pentagon spending down to 2006 levels. Remember back in 2006 when we were all hiding in our basements fearing an invasion, and politicians were wringing their hands about the US’s declining military power? Yeah, me neither.
Many experts from across the political spectrum have offered plans to go to sequester-level numbers and below without harming national security. A new report by Robert Barro and Veronique de Rugy shows that claims of the impact of defense cuts are “grossly overblown,” and that every $1 in defense cuts over the next five years would actually generate $1.30 in private spending.
Some have pointed out that the Department of Defense is making decisions designed to exaggerate the potential impact of reductions:
Asked by Defense News whether the generals and admirals went too far, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., revealed that in private conversations “some of — not all, OK — the national security guys who have come to see me say, ‘Corker, after the next seven months it’s not that hard to manage,’ because then they can work with the appropriators. It goes back to the normal process.”
And Sessions took umbrage with the Pentagon’s furlough threats.
“They claim 90,000 people would be furloughed. That is a very serious problem,” Sessions said. “But it’s one day. They’re not 90,000 laid off. They’re reducing their work from five days to four, which is unwise and not a smart way to manage at all, but … .”
Among the first lawmakers to speak up about the Pentagon’s warnings was Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and a House Armed Services Committee member.
In a Feb. 12 letter to Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Hunter charged military brass with “adding drama” to the sequestration process by making moves guaranteed to get headlines, but otherwise unnecessary. Hunter told Carter there are “other programs that are worthy of cost cuts or even elimination” than some of the steps military leaders warned Congress they would take.
The politicians who claim that Pentagon cuts are the most damaging should tell that to kids who are getting kicked out of Head Start early education programs. To low income students who can’t afford college because their work study jobs were cut. To victims of domestic violence who can’t access services. To unemployed Americans whose benefits are running out. Tell them that money is better spent on underperforming fighter jets and thousands of nuclear weapons.
Thankfully, there are members of Congress from both parties who recognize that we need to rein in Pentagon spending. With the Pentagon budget coming to the floor in a few weeks, all of them need to feel the pressure. Click here to tell your representative to vote for amendments to cut wasteful Pentagon and nuclear weapons spending.