Fools, Liars, Political Posturers, and Deficit Reducers

From Cordesman “Fools, Liars, Political Posturers, and Deficit Reducers”: Budget Cuts and National Security
There is good reason why anyone who care about the current legislation on the budget deficit should care about its near term impact on national security:

The new legislation layers a whole new set of cuts over the cuts that Secretary Gates had already planned in preparing the FY2012 budget submission, and means a massive new short term pressure to find cuts -- any cuts in defense spending. This pressure comes at time when the Department has had years of growth in real spending, and could justly be criticized for a lack of realistic long term force planning, and ability to control its manpower and procurement costs. However, DoD had already carried out major program terminations in FY2010 and FY2011 long before the present budget debate, and had announced plans for further terminations in FY2012 and to cut military active manning in its budget submission in February 2011. This already put defense spending under acute pressure.

DoD has also announced plans for $78 billion in savings and changes during FY2012-FY2016. It had planned to eliminate almost all real growth in defense spending after FY2013. This already reduced the planned total cost of the defense budget from $708 billion in FY2011 to $661 billion in FY2016 even if one assumed the US will still be spend $50 billion a year on its wars in FY2016. Moreover, Secretary Gates has already pushed the services to show that they could reallocate another $100 billion during FY2012-FY2016 in ways that could make their operations more efficient effective.

Moreover, in April 2010, President Obama had already added the goal of cutting the defense budget by $400 million over the next twelve years. This put US defense expenditure on a track that would sharply further reduce its burden on the budget before the present debate began, and makes finding more cuts that do not threaten US vital interests even more difficult. Some reports indicate that the bill that has come out of the debate would change this reduction to a $350 billion cut over ten years, which amounts to roughly the same level of cuts already planned during this period.

The debate never meaningfully addressed the rise in the total cost of the interagency homeland defen
se effort to over $70 billion a year, a massive new spending effort that has grown with minimal efficiency and without adult supervision. The most it did was to include it in the “national security category” in the legislation.

The debate reflected a near-total disregard for the need for State Department and other civil departments to play a major role in consolidating our victory in Iraq, supporting a transition to Afghan control in 2014, and preparing for the US to play a major role in supporting democracy and political change in the Middle East.

The debate that led up to the legislation produced a dishonest proposal for cuts in wartime spending amounting to $1 trillion dollars. This was matched by an equally dishonest Future Year Defense Program submission for FY2012 from the Department of Defense that claimed the total cost of Afghanistan, Iran, and its part of the global war on terrorism would suddenly drop from $159 billion in FY2011 and $118 billion in FY2012, to a constant level of $50 billion in FY2013-2016. The real cost of our wars has to be over $75 billion in FY2013, ands no one knows the out year costs. As for the $1 trillion dollar saving, it would take 20 years to achieve a $1 trillion dollar saving at a rate of $50 billion a year, and it would mean two decades in which the US could not spend a dime on any oversea contingency.

The good news is that the legislation that has come out of this debate is not going to survive in ways that will give it mid and long-term impact. This becomes clear the moment anyone examines the real world nature of the supposed longer term plans for defense cuts in the legislation.
First, there is no way to make a meaningful assessment of what the numbers involved in the bill actually mean. It calls for cuts to non-existent future plans and budget baselines over a period some twelve years into the future. Moreover, these cuts are to be made over a period where no one can yet define the value of current or constant dollars over the time period involved, or estimate the extent to which the cost of defense rises faster than the average rate of future inflation.

Third, the cuts are political numbers that do not reflect any analysis of national security needs, where the cuts would come from, or the risk involved. They make no allowance for new contingency requirements. They are to be carried over more than a decade without regard to future developments in the US economy and competing needs for federal spending.

Fourth, the cuts are not based on a serious examination of the priority of national security spending relative to other discretionary spending and entitlements programs, and sources of revenue. They do not look at the fact national security – which everyone agrees is a legitimate priority for federal activity – costs under 5% of a $14 trillion dollar economy even though we a still involved in two wars. They totally ignore the fact it is the rising cost of medical treatment (rising from 5-6% of the GDP in the past towards 19%) and the needs of an aging population (rising from 12% to 20% of the total) that is key area that has pushed up our debt and deficit and where we need sound national programs – not simply budget cuts.

Fifth, the legislation sets up a Special Joint Committee’s that must identify $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reductions by the end of 2011. If the Congress does not support its proposals, this would trigger automatic deficit reductions of $1.2 trillion to defense and non-defense programs, equally, by 2013. This proposal borders on absurd. There is no credible way that the Special Joint Committee can effectively address the cuts that should be made in our national security efforts by November 23, 2011, and that the Congress as whole could properly evaluate the result for an up or down vote by December 23, 201

Sixth, if the Special Joint Committee’s recommendations are not accepted, the bill would trigger massive cuts that apply to a broad national security category that lumps together agency budgets for the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the intelligence community management account (95–0401–0–1–054), and all budget accounts in budget function 150 (international affairs) without any need to review the very different impact of such cuts or debate their impact. It also sets what are essentially arbitrary annual caps in budget authority on this security category of $546 billion if the Special Joint Committee’s recommendation are not passed into law or are vetoed, and requires OMB to enforce them.

Mark Twain once warned about “liars, damned liars, and statistics.” We need to update his warnings. We are now talking about “fools, liars, political posturers, and deficit reducers.” Like so much of the current budget debate, the new legislation on reductions in defense spending is an exercise in fantasy numbers that is decoupled from reality and consists of nothing more than empty, impressive sounding political gestures.

The good news is that the government that has ignored so many budget ceiling and reduction exercises in the past is not going to add some $600 billion more in cuts to the $400 billion it is already seeking or even $200 billion more if the President’s prior call for $400 billion in cuts is subtracted from the total. The Congress and the President will have to ignore or change this legislation the moment a real security need arises and its sees the cost of rushing out to make the first set of poorly planned and executed cuts in national security spending. The new debt ceiling deal is simply too stupid and irresponsible to survive, and the current round a self-congratulation over its success in Washington has all the wisdom and maturity of two teenagers that are proud to have stopped daring each other to go bungee jumping without a cord.

The detailed trends in our national resource crisis and national security spending as laid out ion detail in Rethinking a Resource-Based Strategy, available on the CSIS web site at Rethinking a Resource-Based Strategy | Center for Strategic and International Studies
Anthony has a point here, the UK's recent Strategic Defence and Security Review was hasty and shambolic but this looks even less promising.

There's a lot of lard that could be trimmed from US defense spending but it's often politically very difficult as it's really a for of federal subsidy to multiple states and at bottom destroying jobs during a recession is wrong headed. That will make it very hard to agree anything and then the arbitrary cuts are meant to get applied. Completely unrealistic.

Defense is ground were the Dems feel their base will tolerate cuts and there is some bi-partisan feeling that they can work together on. That's even more likely to cause short sighted cuts in useful programs.

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