By Roderick Miller –
The bipartisan congressional “super committee” officially failed in its task of negotiating $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction measures, emerging from months of deliberations with no deal in hand as of the deadline. As specified in the legislation that created the super committee, the committee’s failure to reach an agreement will trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts. Those cuts will be drawn equally from defense and domestic spending, and, barring further congressional action, will come into effect in January 2013.
Accounting for projected interest savings, the Pentagon’s actual share of the automatic cuts would be $500 billion over a span of 10 years. However, this reduction would be in addition to the $350 billion in defense cuts that are already mandated by last summer’s debt limit agreement. Given a baseline Defense Department budget of $700 billion for fiscal year 2011, these mandatory spending reductions will require significant slashes to the Defense Department’s budgets for years to come.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta condemned the debt commission’s failure to reach a deal, warning that “[i]f Congress fails to act over the next year, the Department of Defense will face devastating, automatic, across-the-board cuts that will tear a seam in the nation’s defense.” Panetta cautioned that the additional cuts would result in a “hollow force incapable of sustaining the missions it is assigned.” Further emphasizing the price of Congressional inaction, Panetta asserted that “sequester would also jeopardize our ability to provide our troops and their families with the benefits and the support they have been promised. Our troops deserve better and our nation demands better.”
Republican lawmakers have been quick to respond to the super committee’s failure with vows to undo or minimize the mandatory defense cuts. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, indicated that he would introduce legislation to repeal the defense cuts. “I will not be the armed services chairman who presides over crippling our military,” he said. Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have also signaled that they are working on a plan to mitigate the effect of automatic cuts on the Pentagon’s budget.
In preemptive response to such proposals, President Barack Obama has vowed to veto any attempt to disarm the sequestration mechanism without first achieving the agreed upon deficit reductions. Admonishing Congress, he said “[t]here will be no easy offramps on this one. We need to keep the pressure up to compromise, not turn off the pressure.”
Despite his vocal opposition to additional defense cuts, Defense Secretary Panetta backed the President’s position, calling on Congress to take action where the super committee had failed. “Despite the danger posed by sequestration, I join the president in his call for Congress to avoid an easy way out of this crisis,” said the Secretary. “Congress cannot simply turn off the sequester mechanism but, instead, must pass deficit reduction at least equal to the $1.2 trillion it was charged to pass under the Budget Control Act.”
With time running out, Congress has yet to disarm the automatic cuts set to commence at the beginning of next year.