Up in Arms

Published — July 13, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

‘Drastic’ defense cuts would set the clock back only to 2006

The Congressional Budget Office suggests that budget sequestration may not gut the defense budget


Defense spending cuts slated to take effect automatically in January if the two parties cannot agree on a more balanced budget would still leave the Defense Department with more funding than it received six years ago, according to a report Wednesday from the Congressional Budget Office.

It projects that the so-called “sequestration” of military and other funds, ordered by a law enacted last year, would cut the Pentagon’s requested FY 2013 budget of $526 billion to $469 billion, an amount it said was still “larger than it was in 2006 (in 2013 dollars) and larger than the average base budget during the 1980s.”

Sequestration would cut spending for the Pentagon by about $1 trillion over the next decade. The pending cut has prompted panic from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who said it would cause “an unacceptable risk in future combat operations.” Lawmakers such as House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) have said they want to block any cuts to defense spending — whether through sequestration or through President Barack Obama’s plan to keep the defense budget mostly level over the next 10 years.

Gordon Adams, a former Office of Management and Budget associate director for national security and international affairs under President Bill Clinton who is now at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit think tank, said he doubts sequestration will happen at all but that “the fact is Defense would not really suffer under those automatic cuts. 2006 was a very healthy level for defense spending.”

The CBO report Wednesday also claimed the Pentagon had underestimated many of its own costs for health care and pay for soldiers and civilian personnel. Although the Defense Department’s five-year projection through FY 2017 sets aside $615 billion for these costs, CBO predicts $738 billion, or 5 percent, more will be needed.

Pentagon spokesman George Little noted that the report also predicted the department would not be able to cutback as much as it has predicted on ballooning expenditures for major weapons systems. The CBO’s analysis “instead assumes that future acquisitions programs will perform as they have too often in the past. Their analysis makes clear that we can’t let that happen and that we instead have to improve the performance of our acquisition programs,” Little said.

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