Fight brewing over DOD budget cuts

Fueled by the public's desire to see defense spending slashed, Congress and Pentagon may be in for a showdown

Recent polls have shown that the U.S. public overwhelmingly favors cutting defense spending as a means of reducing the federal budget deficit. But top defense officials warn of an impending crisis if the Defense Department's budget suffers overly drastic reductions.

Now, a budgetary battle royale looms on Capitol Hill as politics, national security and a lingering financial crisis collide.

High-level Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Undersecretary of Defense and Comptroller Robert Hale, caution that national security would be jeopardized if Congress goes too far in swinging the budget ax. Recently, Gates illustrated that point with historical examples.

“Retrenchment brought about by short-sighted cuts could well lead to costlier and more tragic consequences later — indeed, as they always have in the past,” Gates said Feb. 17 in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Surely, we should learn from our national experience since World War I. ... Drastic reductions in the size and strength of the U.S. military make armed conflict all the more likely, with an unacceptably high cost in American blood and treasure.”

Here in the present, defense experts are predicting a nasty showdown between DOD and Congress, fueled by a public tired of funding two long and costly wars.

Gates has indicated that the $553 billion requested for fiscal 2012 is nearly bare-bones for the Defense Department — a sentiment shared by at least one Capitol Hill player. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he has significant concerns about that budget. He noted the $13 billion decrease from last year’s projected figure and the zero-growth rate built in for future years.

However, that premise conflicts with the general mood in Washington and the rest of the country. Several recent public opinion polls clearly illustrate the public’s disillusionment with paying for war.

A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in January showed that when faced with a choice of cutting three big government programs, 55 percent of respondents chose defense spending, while 21 percent chose Medicare and 13 percent chose Social Security.

Similarly, in a study by the Program for Public Consultation, people were presented with the federal budget and asked to propose changes. Those surveyed chose to reduce defense-related spending by an average of $109 billion out of about $146 billion in federal budget cuts overall.

Although the public isn't in charge of making budget cuts, Americans' opinions are being heard on Capitol Hill, where they will shape the fight for major spending reductions.

“Congress will have to have the courage to take the steps the Pentagon has avoided,” wrote Larry Korb, Laura Conley and Alex Rothman of the Center for American Progress in a Feb. 15 article titled "Defense Cuts Are Mandatory."

‘Budgetary trench warfare’

Nevertheless, contrary to the doomsday picture painted by Gates and Hale, some experts say that although cuts to the defense budget might be painful, they won’t incite a failure of national security.

“To suggest that this is an unmanageable and difficult process or one that puts the department at the edge of crisis, I think simply overstates the problem,” said Gordon Adams, a professor of U.S. foreign policy at American University and previously a senior White House budget official for national security.

“We have been in this kind of situation before with deficit reduction at the end of the Cold War from 1985 to 1998, when the force came down substantially,” Adams said. "Procurement went down 50 percent, [and] the whole budget went down 30 percent. And we still wound up with a force that, while some thought it was stressed, was still capable of using Saddam Hussein as a speed bump in 2003."

The arguments are the basis for what Adams called the iron triangle — a power struggle among DOD, appropriations committees and the rest of Congress. And he said the fight is heating up.

“We’re going to see a tug of war on Capitol Hill that we haven’t seen in a long time,” Adams said. “This is budgetary trench warfare.”

Reader Comments

Mon, Sep 3, 2012

Eliminate duplications of Services on Civilian/Military Airports. Civilian Airports are required to have Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Resources and Personnel. Work with Civilians an d sign Letters of Agreement to have them provide ARFF, they are already there anyway

Wed, May 2, 2012 Lori Garcia CA

DOD has an over inflated budget, the soldiers that were enlisted on wavers ( felons and less then a high school degree (GED) ) should be separated... Are we really going to VOTE for a government that will allow our elder and children go hungry and without medical care? While DOD does not follow their own polices they do NOT practice zero drug tolerance they do practice look the other way polices... Allow the sequester and feed the elderly and children

Thu, Nov 17, 2011

Add more military troops, reduce civilian DOD workers. They cost so much more money and most don't deploy. In Europe, the average housing allowance for military soldiers is about 1300 euro. DOD civilians get a whopping 3000 euro, plus all utility expenditures. If a DOD civilian leave windows of his house open all winter the first year over in Europe and conserves the second and third year, he makes money because they only reconcile the first year. The average military family gets a fixed amount for utilities and since many families can only afford the old houses that use oil they go over their allowance. COLA was cut because many people over here are now having to buy used items. The reason being, military families have to use that COLA for utilities. DOD civilians go by the Department of States housing allowance, so I'm thinking it needs to be cut also.

Tue, Aug 2, 2011

The real problem is the "baby boomers" are at retirement age. I guess the "brain childs" that make long term planning for the US budget, did not account for that and now we(military) are left to clean up or get cut. I agree cutting the military budget are hard as they have will make us a weaker military force. I am on overseas duty and we are already seeing and feeling the effects, like the yen rate and parts to fix things.

Sat, Apr 9, 2011

Please understand that the spending on the military is not about supporting our troops. Of course they should be supported. Let's bring them home. The true cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghan are at or above 4 trillion, or $33,000 per household. It will be more next year. We spend almost half of the entire worlds miltary budget on our "defense" It is bankrupting us. We will be like the USSR, with a strong military but a 3rd world economy. Only the military-industrial complex does't care about the rest of us if they have their trillions to spend.

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