Officials prepare for automatic defense cuts

November 7, 2011

As people become more and more skeptical of the supercommittee’s ability to reach an agreement on a plan to reduce the deficit, many are turning their attention to what will happen in the aftermath of a supercommittee failure.

If the group isn’t able to meet its deadline for producing a proposal to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, automatic across the board cuts will go into effect. Some of the most significant cuts, an estimated $500 billion over 10 years, will hit the Pentagon’s budget. Many lawmakers and the Secretary of Defense are worried that this could have a devastating effect on the nation’s military. In anticipation of this, some members of Congress are developing legislation to exempt the Defense Department from the automatic cuts, replacing them, as The New York Times reports, with “cuts in other areas of the federal budget.”

While it’s important to carefully consider cuts to the Pentagon as we all want to maintain a strong national defense, few can argue that isn’t room for spending reform with the Department of Defense. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has, in fairness, conceded some cutbacks that he would be willing to consider. The New York Times explains:

Mr. Panetta, a former White House budget chief, acknowledged in an interview that he faced deep political pressures as he weighed cuts to Pentagon spending, which has doubled to $700 billion a year since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He said that meeting deficit-reduction targets might require another round of base closings, which could be highly contentious as members of Congress routinely fight to protect military deployments and jobs in their communities.

Among other steps, Mr. Panetta said, Pentagon strategists were looking at additional cuts in the nuclear arsenal, with an eye toward determining how many warheads the military needed to deter attacks.

Mr. Panetta also held out the possibility of cutting the number of American troops based in Europe, with the United States compensating for any withdrawal by helping NATO allies improve their militaries.

Trimming Pentagon spending by eliminating waste and increasing productivity remains a goal, he said — but he acknowledged that that would not be enough.

It’s understandable that a cabinet secretary would fight to maintain his department’s full funding, but at some time it becomes necessary to put the nation’s long-term financial health ahead of political interests.

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