Defense Spending Will and Should be Cut but How Much?


by Robert L. Hanafin

As gridlock and debate recently raged over debt ceilings and how and where to cut the federal budget a band-aide was applied that raised the U.S. debt ceiling for now.

However, even before the debate and gridlock went to the brink something once unthinkable in a time of  wars on several fronts occurred – Democrats and Republicans alike began insisting on significant cuts to the Defense Budget that would no longer allow defense spending to be a Golden Idol, Sacred Cow, or Armed to the Teeth Uncle Sam.

As Congress and the White House went to the brink on our National Debt and increasing the debt ceiling, there has not been as much discussion over cuts to defense in the mainstream media until now. In fact, here in Ohio at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base preemptive actions to find places to cut their budget are being taken by the U.S. Air Force. More on that later. Suffice it to say that the Air Force is seeking ways to cut their budget before being told to by Pentagon bean counters. USAF belt tightening most likely is symbolic of current actions being taken by all services to present the image that the Defense Department is proactively sharing in the burden of federal budget cutting to deal with the National Deficit. It remains to be seen what in-house action each service takes, but political pressure from Congressional politicians of both parties having military bases or military industries profiting from the war(s) will surely be heavy to keep defense cuts to the minimum politically possible.

The focus of the partisan political debate and stalemate over how to handle our National deficit has been on more tax cuts for the rich, imbalanced by cuts to domestic social programs like Social Security and Medicare, but little upfront debate over the fiscal costs of maintaining U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas such as taking a backseat to NATO on Libya.

In Libya we were forced to take an Air and Sea support role much to the chagrin of the people of NATO allies desiring the U.S. to take a more active lead as in Iraq and Afghanistan that of course would lead to America going it alone with only token support from NATO nations as they focus on rebuilding their own economies with leverage to cut their own defense spending. However, reality is that with our ground troops stretched to a point of a rubber band breaking, the only troops the U.S. has left to commit anywhere in the world are Navy and Air Force not heavily engaged in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Lack of debate and overall fiscal costs of our U.S. military presence around the world does not mean that there hasn’t been talk back stage about cutting the Pentagon budget.

The TV airwaves here in Ohio have been overwhelmed with political ads about the threat to PBS, the threat to local TV, the threat to Social Security and Medicare. However, we have yet to see any TV ad warning viewers about the threat to National Security if we cut too deeply into defense spending. It may only be a matter of time before special interests groups that benefit from war profiteering launch campaign ads painting the Democrats as weak on Defense while Democrat flex their flabby Chicken Hawk muscles in imitation of the professional Chicken Hawks of the Republican Party.

That said, just as the services prepared for defense spending after the Persian Gulf War, I believe they will get in the mindset of being ready (no pun intended) to do even more with even less resources.

For now, in Ohio at least the focus is cutting back on Defense civilian employees thus the argument that defense budget cuts hurt “military” readiness are weak for most civilians do not deploy in any direct combat readiness role. In the Ohio news today are efforts being taken by the Air Force to for now cut the number of civilian employees at Air Force bases like Wright-Patterson’s Air Force Material Command (AFMC) where civilians dominate (outnumber military personnel) such as a 90 day federal hiring freeze, forced retirements, and buy outs to persuade Air Force civilians to leave voluntarily rather than face a Reduction in Force (RIF).

This will become a political hot potato for any Congressional District or state with a significant U.S. military presence due to the large number of defense industry civilian employees who will join the ranks of the unemployed.

ROBERT L. HANAFIN, Veterans Issues Editor, Veterans Today News Network

Defense Spending Cuts Are Now Reality – How Much is the Question

Back in July AP Reporter Donna Cassata in her story- Struggling with debt, Congress talks defense cuts – reported that:

     “Once unthinkable in a time of two wars, Democrats and Republicans alike are insisting that the billions spent on the military can be significantly cut back over the next decade as the nation struggles to reduce its spiraling debt.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promoted a plan back in July that would slash spending and increase the government’s borrowing authority while capping spending by the Pentagon and other government agencies at $1.2 trillion.

On the other side of the isle, conservative Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma called for just over $1 trillion in defense cuts in his “Back in Black” plan, including fewer weapons, fighter jets and personnel. A bipartisan group of six senators even envisioned defense budget cuts of more than $800 billion in 10 years.

Ms. Cassata insight-fully noted that:

     “The proposals reflect a rare bipartisan consensus driven by a dire economic outlook. The numbers even outpace what a Democratic commander in chief called for…. In April, President Barack Obama instructed the Pentagon to find $400 billion in defense savings over 12 years and said no decisions on specifics would be made until the Pentagon had completed a review of options for achieving such reductions.”

Defense spending will be a ripe target, especially since the money would come from cuts in projected increases. Defense budgets, not including the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, consistently have gone up in recent years, from just over $370 billion in the late 1990s to around $550 billion today.

Military leaders and lawmakers on the House and Senate Armed Services committees overseeing the Pentagon warn of creating a “hollow” fighting force.

Obama’s choice for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, warned that cuts of $800 billion or more “would be extraordinarily difficult and very high risk.” Leaders in the Marine Corps, Air Force, Army and Navy warned that cuts of that magnitude would force them to restructure their respective services and cause problems meeting the demands of commanders in the field.

Sen. Scott Brown, (R-Mass) warned that hasty across-the-board cuts will dramatically affect the safety and security of the men and women serving. Rep. J. Randy Forbes, (R-Va.), on a more partisan and political note lamented that our state of military readiness would be doomed by the looming defense budget cuts many in Congress seem willing to inflict on our military.

Even the Democrat Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, (Mich.,) expressed his concern about “an aggressive number for defense.”

Senate Majority Leader Reid proposed caps on defense, intelligence and veterans spending at $606 billion in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and $607 billion the following year. The caps would essentially pare back the increases in military spending, standard for an agency that deals with long-term contracts for multimillion-dollar weapons and programs. Separately, Reid counted some $1 trillion in savings from eventually winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veterans Today Note: Harry Reid combines defense, intelligence, and veterans spending as if funding comes from the same pot but reality is that each has its own funding process. How I view the way Senator Reid has slumped all three together is the obviously close relationship between defense and intelligence community spending and the addition of veterans as the TOTAL COSTS OF WAR(S).  Even old guard Vets organizations have long lobbied Congress that caring for America’s Vets should be viewed as part of the total costs of waging wars or defending our nation (depending on a Vet’s political ideology) regardless how funding is managed.

Ms. Cassata’s assessment back in July still applies and will be applicable in the near future going into the 2012 election cycle:

     “The demands for defense cuts come as Republicans fiercely oppose increases in taxes and Democrats say hands-off on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. That leaves the billions for defense and the scores of other government programs, from education to transportation to agriculture, for reductions as the nation grapples with a $1.5 trillion deficit.”

Democrat Congressman Adam Smith (Washington) the top Democrat on House Armed Services noted that “If Republicans are taking revenue completely off the table, it’s unavoidable that defense, which is 20 percent of the budget, is going to face some significant reductions to get our deficit under control.”

Defense spending has to be on the table in any event, but Congressman Smith noted, “once you take revenue off the table, defense is in serious trouble. That concerns me, but our deficit concerns me as well.” He said many in Congress were “brutally in denial” about how to solve the fiscal problem.

Only Long-Range Proposals Favor Significant Defense Cuts

Although the long-range proposals favor significant defense cuts, many Republicans and Democrats have been reluctant this year to vote for defense reductions.

The House overwhelmingly backed a $649 billion defense spending bill that boosted the Pentagon budget by $17 billion. The legislation included $119 billion for the two wars. During debate, the House easily turned back efforts by liberal Democrats and tea party Republicans to slash billions.

Veterans Today Note: Despite the enormous ideological gap between liberals and tea party Republicans the one thing they have in common is almost a libertarian sense that defense spending, foreign aid, and foreign entanglements must be cut or put on hold until we have taken care of American’s First and more so dealt with a skyrocketing National Debt and Deficit.

Ironically, tea party-backed ‘fiscally conservative’ Republicans have prevailed on occasion, most notably last February when they led the effort to eliminate funds for a second engine for the next-generation F-35 fighter plane.

I have to agree with John Isaacs, executive director of Council for a Livable World and Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation that it is fear of being labeled weak-on national defense that turns moderate Democrats into Chicken Hawks. Isaacs insight-fully noted that if:

“tea party Republicans were willing to cut defense spending, it would give more courage to Democrats” worried about the weak-on-national security label they’ve often faced since the Vietnam War.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who served as director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget under Bill Clinton, has the savvy and experience cutting budgets. He is now overseeing a review of the military readiness consequences of budget reductions of $400 billion and above. His review inherited from Robert Gates  would include an assessment of what changes in defense strategy would be required as a result of such cuts and how they would affect military capabilities.

The review could be completed by the end of the summer.

In order to maintain continuity with this story, my next post will be on what critics of defense cuts have to say in what they label as ‘Doomsday’ defense cuts.


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