Congress Is Not About To Let The Pentagon Budget Get Slashed

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If the Supercommittee can't come up with a deal to slash the deficit, automatic reductions to defense spending would take place. But is that really likely?

No, it's not likely, as long as there are members of Congress there to stop a massive reduction in defense spending — $500 billion — from taking effect. The spade work is already being done to avoid that scenario, as hopes for a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction deal in the bipartisan committee grow dimmer, The New York Times reports.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has drafted a bill that would replace the military reductions that would occur under a process known in Congress as sequestration with 5 percent cuts to other, unspecified parts of the federal budget, and a 10 percent decrease in pay for members of Congress. In the House, similar measures are being assembled.

“If the joint select committee does not do what it needs to do,” said Representative K. Michael Conaway, a Texas Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, “most of us will move heaven and earth to find an alternative that prevents a sequester from happening.”

That "sequester" is a deeply troubling possibility, military leaders say. They warn it could cripple valuable defense programs. Elected officials, of both parties, would also have to deal with the political ramifications of a sharp cut in defense spending, namely the reduction of jobs for existing defense sector workers, and of future goodies to bring home to impress the voters.

Some members are insistent that the automatic sequester mechanism would stay in place, including House Speaker John Boehner, who said the presence of an "ugly" alternative was the factor that would force the supercommittee to actually strike a major deal.

But plenty of others have been predicting the end of this fight for weeks. The Pentagon will get what it wants, says Spencer Ackerman at Wired. Why? Not just the military and affected congressmen, but defense industry lobbyists will be pushing to ensure the cuts don't take effect as scheduled in January 2013. And, perhaps more to the point, there will have been a presidential race, one that plays out with the doom-and-gloom backdrop of impending sequestration for the military.

Think about it. In order for sequestration to happen, both history and the current political environment would have to be defied. The brass would have to knuckle under and meekly accept the cuts, rather than telling Congress, as Gen. Raymond Odierno did this morning, “cuts of this magnitude would be catastrophic to the military.” So would the defense industry, with its phalanx of lobbyists. Members of Congress would have to be happy to explain to voters and the media why they hung the military out to dry. So would Obama, who can be certain that his GOP rival will vow to roll back the cuts.

In other words, for the Defense Department to really face its nightmare scenario, the laws of political and legislative gravity would have to be suspended. Far more likely: the roughly $450 billion in budget cuts that the Pentagon has already absorbed over ten years — with some adjustments, if the Supercommittee actually successfully imposes more — are it.

And that's why senators are pressing the military to detail the effects of major cuts: so they can heighten the fear of a scenario of drastic reduction, and ensure it doesn't occur, even if the deficit talks don't reach a compromise.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.