Military Spending and the “Deficit Reduction” Bill

Confused about the impact of the “budget deal” on military spending?  Hawks are screaming—so maybe real cuts to military spending are on the chopping block, right?

Well, no. Here’s why:

The bill just passed offers two possibilities for potential cuts in military spending. Let’s consider each of these:

(1)  Budget caps: This covers FY 2012, which begins in October. The budget caps require that spending not exceed a certain level throughout the government. The budget cap for military spending is contained within the so-called “security” category consisting of the Pentagon, State Department, Homeland Security, and the discretionary part of Veterans Affairs. For FY 2012, the budget cap for “security” spending is a grand total of $5 billion below the 2011 level; analysts have suggested that total “security” spending exceeds $1 trillion. If it is $1 trillion, we are talking about cutting one half of one percent of our “security” spending.

You can safely bet that the Republican-dominated House and the accomplice Democrats in the Senate will ensure that the miniscule $5 billion reduction in “security” spending does not come from the Pentagon, but from our Veterans, from our already hobbled and much-needed diplomatic resources, and from foreign aid. In short, the budget cap will not lead to reductions in bloated military spending.

War spending, now and in the future, is carved out and is exempt from any cuts.

The bill calls for a special Joint Committee tasked with recommending an additional $1.2 trillion of deficit reduction—either from spending cuts or revenue.  If the Committee can agree on a set of recommendations, these recommendations will then have to be voted on by the full House and Senate.  There is no reason to believe that such a Joint Committee would recommend significant reductions in military spending, or that Congress would vote reductions should the Committee recommend them.

It is far more likely that the majority of any budget cuts will be borne by the poor, the old, the sick. More jobs will be lost and none created, while unemployment insurance payments are denied. And our deepest national problems will fester.

(2) Automatic spending cuts:  If the new Joint Committee fails to reach agreement, the bill calls for automatic 15% across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending, including Pentagon spending. The White House claims that, under this scenario, Pentagon spending could be reduced by as much as $500 billion over a decade. The catch here is that the 15% spending “cuts” for the Pentagon are computed by looking at planned spending (from the Administration’s February 2011 budget submission), not current spending. That is, Obama’s 2011 budget projects significant annual increases in the Pentagon budget for the next ten years, and the automatic spending “cuts”—if they ever came–would begin with these proposed increases in Pentagon spending.

I don’t know about you, but in my family budget, I define a spending cut as “less than what I spent last year,” not “less than what I was hoping to spend next year.”  But in the Alice-in-Wonderland logic of this bill, money going to the Pentagon could actually increase but be called a “cut” if the increase was less than Obama proposed in his 2011 planning document.

The maximum real cut to Pentagon spending even remotely possible under the bill is less than 1%.

Smoke and mirrors.

2 Responses to “Military Spending and the “Deficit Reduction” Bill”

  1. 1 Dick H August 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    I learned some good information from the Automatic Spending cuts but “Analysts have suggested etc does not give me concrete facts to use in my conversations with people. What analysts and what costs make up the $1 trillion over how long?
    Dick H

  2. 2 Jean Athey August 7, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    For a good article on total annual military spending, please check this out:

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