Ezra Klein presents the White House talking point that the defense spending triggered spending cuts are a real stick in the mini-Catfood Commission bargaining:
What it includes instead are massive cuts to the defense budget. If Congress doesn’t pass a second round of deficit reduction, the trigger cuts $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Fully half of that comes from defense spending. And note that I didn’t say “security spending.” The Pentagon takes the full hit if the trigger goes off. [. . .] Whether you think the trigger will work depends on whether you think the GOP would permit that level of cuts to defense.
Ezra rightly dismisses the WH spin that revenue increases are in fact on the table. They aren't. (Ezra makes the more plausible case that the Bush tax cuts expiring is the real revenue trigger.) That said, cutting defense spending via an automatic trigger is meaningless when you consider the Congress can reverse those automatic cuts through separate legislation. Which they almost certainly would. Indeed, they could easily use President Obama's own words:
President Barack Obama believes cutting defense spending by nearly $1 trillion over the next decade, as suggested by the Simpson-Bowles Commission, goes too far for a country still at war. "There were aspects of Bowles-Simpson that I said from very early on were not the approach I would take," Obama told reporters July 15. "On defense spending, a huge amount of their savings on the discretionary side came out of defense spending. I think we need to cut defense, but as commander in chief, I've got to make sure that we're cutting it in a way that recognizes we're still in the middle of a war, we're winding down another war, and we've got a whole bunch of veterans that we've got to care for as they come home."
Given these statements from the President, it is impossible to believe that he would or could oppose a stand alone bill that would reverse the automatic triggered cuts to defense spending.
Imagine the automatic trigger date looming after the mini-Catfood Commission fails. Then imagine a bill sailing through the House restoring the defense spending. Do you see the Senate stopping it? The President? I don't.
There is a benefit to this structure - the amount of cuts will be smaller than advertised - about a trillion less by my reckoning. And that's not nothing. But as leverage to make a bargain on tax increases? No way, no how.
NOTE - I am assuming this provision survives bargaining today, something I am not at all sure of.