The Deepest Cut: The Pentagon may have way less money to work with than it thinks.
On June 10, The Hill’s defense blog reported that a bipartisan group of 30 senators is meeting behind closed doors to discuss funding alternatives that would avert “sequestration,” an instant $55 billion cut to the Pentagon’s budget slated to occur on January 2, 2013. This 10 percent across-the-board cut to defense spending was originally designed to be such an unthinkable menace that it would motivate policymakers to come up with rational fixes to the federal budget. Whether the senators will be able to find a solution before January remains uncertain.
Even if President Barack Obama and congressional leaders can ward off sequestration, few believe that this will end Washington’s budget drama. The outcome of the November election will be crucial to future budget priorities. In the meantime, some defense analysts are already preparing for what may come even if sequestration is averted. Last January, Obama unveiled a new defense strategy, designed around $487 billion in cuts over the next 10 years. This strategy will lay off 100,000 soldiers and Marines over the next five years, cut nine Navy ships and defer or cancel the construction of 12 others, and eliminate six Air Force tactical fighter squadrons and scrap 130 cargo planes. But one new analysis, based on three other deep defense drawdowns that have occurred since World War II, suggests that Pentagon planners would be wise to get ready for cuts far beyond the $487 billion already factored into the military’s plans.
Part I of the report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies was released last month and discusses the assumptions and framework for their analysis. Part II will arrive in November and will present specific recommendations for restructuring U.S. military forces after assuming a one-third cut in defense spending between 2010 and 2024. The CSIS authors believe that regardless of how the 2012 and subsequent elections turn out, the pressure of fiscal austerity will remain. Further, they assume bargaining leverage among political parties and factions will remain sufficiently dispersed, such that bipartisan compromises on the large budget and tax issues will be required. The authors thus conclude that the Pentagon will have to endure cuts totaling $1.2 to $1.5 trillion between 2010 and 2024.