Top Military Officials: Proposed Budget Cuts Will Be Catastrophic

The U.S. government is spending considerably more money than it is taking in.  President Obama and Congress know they have to cut government spending.  The question is what to cut and/or where to cut?

To answer that question our elected officials appointed a 12-member, bipartisan supercommittee as part of the Budget Control Act.  This supercommittee must come to an agreement on spending cuts and increased tax revenue that reduce the budget deficit by $1.5 Trillion.  The deadline for this agreement is Nov. 23.  Thus far, there has been little progress. 

If the supercommittee fails to perform its duty and Congress does not pass a deficit-reducing plan by Dec. 23, a sequestration provision would kick in.

In other words, across-the-board, indiscriminate spending cuts to domestic and defense programs would take effect in fiscal 2013 and henceforth.  These cuts would amount to $1 trillion over the next ten years.   

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the top brass of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force testified before the House Armed Services Committee to warn lawmakers that if no agreement is reached, and this sequestration mechanism kicks in, the U.S. military would be crippled.  

“Cuts of this magnitude would be catastrophic to the military,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told the House members. “In the case of the Army, it would significantly reduce our capability and capacity to assure our partners abroad, respond to crisis and deter our adversaries while threatening the readiness and potentially the all-volunteer force.”

“It would require us to completely revamp our national security strategy and reassess our ability to shape the global environment in order to protect the United States,” the general said.

“With sequestration,” the General added, “my assessment is that the nation would incur an unacceptable level of strategic and operational risk.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert said sequestration would cause “irreversible damage.”

“It will hollow the military, and we will be out of balance in manpower, both military and civilian, procurement and modernization,” he said, adding that the subsequent effect on the industrial base “might be irrecoverable.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said, “At a minimum, [such cuts] would slash all our investment accounts, including our top-priority modernization programs such as the KC-46 tanker, the F-35 joint strike fighter, the MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft and the future long-range strike bomber.”

According to General Schwartz, the cuts would also limit the amount missions it can accomplish at any given time. 

“For example, the Air Force’s simultaneous response to crisis situations in Japan and Libya, all the while sustaining our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, will be substantially less likely to happen in the future, … from humanitarian relief in East Asia to combat and related support in North Africa,” Schwartz said.

 “In short, … your Air Force will be superbly capable and unrivaled, bar none, in its ability to provide wide-ranging game-changing air power for the nation,” the general said, “but as a matter of simple physical limitations, it will be able to accomplish fewer tasks in fewer places in any given period of time.”

But not everyone agrees with our military leaders and generals. 

Benjamin Friedman, a budget analyst for the CATO Institute, suggested those testimonials were the equivalent of scare tactics. 

“The services are special bureaucracies and they are trying to frighten us into preserving their budgets,” Friedman wrote in an email to the AP. 

And Analysts Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments wrote in his report that “Under sequestration, the base DoD budget would fall to roughly $472 billion in FY 2013. This would bring the budget back to approximately the same level of funding as FY 2007, adjusting for inflation.”

“Funding would fall by about 11 percent in real terms from FY 2012 to FY 2013 and only grow with inflation for the rest of the decade.”

In other words, and as he pointed out in an email to the AP, “A decline in the base budget of this magnitude — returning to the same level of funding as FY 2007 — does not have to be a disaster.”

Lastly, Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf testified before the supercommittee on Oct. 26 and said that defense spending accounted for about 4.7 percent of gross domestic product — the highest relative level since 1992.

He added that the CBO estimates the automatic cuts would lower defense budgets by about $882 billion total through 2021, or a 16 percent decrease against current projections.

I suppose the question is, who do you believe?