Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Will the defense cuts stick?

“The deal puts us on track to cut $350 billion from the defense budget over 10 years,” says the White House. That’s been one of the catchy headlines from the debt-ceiling deal: Expect sweeping cuts to the Pentagon’s budget. But defense observers are discovering all sorts of caveats embedded in the fine print. So is there any way to figure out how much the Pentagon’s budget will actually shrink in the coming decade? And how likely is it that those cuts will stick?

The way the bill treats defense is fairly confusing. The White House told Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin that in the first round, there are roughly $420 billion in cuts over 10 years to “security” spending (which includes the Pentagon, Homeland Security, State Department, Veterans Affairs and USAID), compared with the baseline. Of that, $350 billion is supposed to come out of the Pentagon’s pockets. But as Rogin points out, the White House was reticent on the fact that that $350 billion number wasn’t a sure thing. It’s up to Congress, not written into the bill.

Take the near term. In fiscal 2011, the total security budget was $689 billion, of which $529 billion went to the Pentagon. Next year, under the debt deal, security spending gets capped at $684 billion. But there’s no guarantee that the Pentagon will absorb that $5 billion cut. In fact, if — as many hawks in Congress would prefer — the Pentagon’s budget grows next year, then agencies such as the State Department and Homeland Security will have to absorb even more in cuts.

“We just don’t know how that will play out yet,” says Gordon Adams, a senior White House budget official for national security in the Clinton administration.
Read the rest here.

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