Now, because the super committee that was supposed to come up with cuts from both defense and domestic spending failed to do so, the bludgeon meant to guarantee that the committee wouldn't fail is just months away from kicking in: sequestration. That means $600 billion in cuts for the Pentagon over a decade, the first round starting with the 2013 budget, which begins Oct. 1. Republicans are saying the defense cuts would be disastrous. Not a lot of sympathy is coming their way from leading Democrats.
“The consistent pattern here is they have chosen to defend special interest tax breaks over defense spending,” [Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland] said. “They made that choice.”The Republicans aren't alone, however, when it comes to decrying the coming defense cuts. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says the same thing. As do many other Democrats. Everybody kicked the can down the road, and now we're just months away from where the pavement ends and the situation gets really bumpy unless there is a reneging or coming up with a new deal.
But the Republicans aren't just issuing alarms. They see opportunity in this election year and are targeting defense-rich congressional districts where Democratic incumbents or candidates might be vulnerable to charges that the defense cuts could injure national security. They, of course, have no concerns that the domestic cuts making up the other half of the sequestration deal could be devastating as well:
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) agrees with Republicans on at least this point: that these cuts would be cataclysmic. [...]How devastating? Republicans and Democrats alike have cited an October 2011 study conducted by Stephen S. Fuller at the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. Under sequestration, Virginia would be second only to California in lost defense jobs—nearly 123,000—the study concluded, a million jobs nationally, most or all of them lost by the end of 2014.
“The defense sequester would be so devastating to the defense of our nation that it is hard to imagine thoughtful legislators actually allowing it to happen,” said Scott, who wants to erase the sequester by ending some Bush-era tax cuts. “We’ve heard from the Department of Defense and certainly anybody from Hampton Roads. It is just absolutely absurd to allow that to happen because of what it does to our national defense and to our local economy.”
Most of those aren't actual defense jobs but rather in businesses that depend on strong defense presence, everything from hair-dressers to auto-dealers. So, the numbers are a bit fuzzier than the study would seem to indicate. But there is no doubt that the budget cuts would have a large impact. Exactly what and where and how is unknown because the Pentagon has not provided any plans. No surprise. Even though spending cuts after the Vietnam War and the Cold War ended were much greater, percentagewise, than what sequestration would force, there is a strong expectation among the generals and admirals that the situation will be resolved in the Pentagon's favor.
In fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been tightening the screws a bit in hopes of getting Republicans to end their sacred vow to Grover Norquist not to raise taxes even if needed to protect the earth from a collision with an extinction-sized asteroid. Reid is not negotiating a way out of sequestration until he starts hearing serious talk of revenue increases as part of the deal. That seems to be having an effect.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, has been sounding the alarm in his state, which thrives on Pentagon spending. But the stubbornness about not raising taxes is weakening:
Mr. Graham is openly talking about revenue increases to offset the costs. Even South Carolina’s ardently conservative House members, Mick Mulvaney, Joe Wilson and Jeff Duncan, said last week that they were ready to talk. [...]Maybe so. Time will tell. Until something breaks and new negotiations begin, however, Republican campaigners will no doubt keep using the threat of defense-spending sequestration to continue their decades-old attack mode of depicting Democrats as weak on defense.
For now, Democrats and Republicans are waiting for the other side to blink. And the pressure may be working. Mr. Graham said the sentiment for raising revenues by closing tax loopholes or imposing higher fees on items like federal oil leases is expanding in his party.
Asked about the “no new taxes” pledge almost all Republicans have signed, he shrugged: “I’ve crossed the Rubicon on that.”
In reality, the defense budget is a bloated monster that needs more than the trillion-dollar trimming that already agreed-to cuts of $450 billion and the $600 billion sequestration would deliver. But those even deeper cuts should be made in a gradual way to give the Pentagon time to make plans that do not endanger national security. Almost nobody is making that argument. And almost nobody will until after the first week of November at the earliest.