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The Defense Cuts That Won’t Happen

Spencer Ackerman says the automatic defense cuts triggered by the failure of the supercommittee will likely never actually happen because Congress will pass a bill reversing the sequestration plan in the name of saving America from spending less than 50% of the world’s money on its military.

The idea behind the super-committee was pretty straightforward, if laced with wishful thinking. Because Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on reducing the ballooning deficit through normal legislative remedies, they’d create a special panel and aim a gun at its head. Automatic cuts to beloved entitlement programs would force the Dems to compromise; automatic cuts to the Pentagon budget would do the same for the GOP. Barring a miracle ahead of the super-committee’s Wednesday deadline to deliver a grand bargain, it failed.

So now comes the Pentagon’s wailing. Panetta has described the automatic cuts, known as “sequestration,” as “this goofy meataxe scenario.” They’ve made the corporate defense giants sputter with rage. The military services predict disaster. And it’s all kabuki.

As Danger Room explained earlier this month, the “automatic” cuts don’t go into effect until January 2013. That gives the Pentagon and its allies on Capitol Hill a full year to stop those cuts from happening — all against the backdrop of a presidential election in which no one is going to want to be pegged as soft on defense. Tuesday night, the Republican presidential candidates will debate national security on CNN. Just watch them step over each other to denounce the cuts and pledge to roll them back.

Stopping sequestration probably won’t have to wait until the next election. Already, Republican legislators are preparing bills that will spare the Pentagon — now slated to spend $5 trillion over the next ten years, excluding war costs — the budget axe. “[M]ost of us will move heaven and earth to find an alternative that prevents a sequester from happening,” Rep. Michael Conoway, an Armed Services Committee member, told the New York Times.

And it’s probably going to be one of the few bipartisan affairs left in Washington. “Arguing for strong defense is a battle-tested mantra for Democrats ever since Clinton was elected,” says Gordon Adams, a former Clinton White House budget official and advocate of steep defense cuts. That’s one of the reasons that Panetta, one of Adams’ old deficit-hawk colleagues in that White House, is a born-again defender of military cash now that he’s running the Pentagon.

But Obama says he’ll veto any bill that attempts to change the original plan and avoid the automatic cuts. Do you believe him? I don’t. That would require a stiffer spine that he has ever shown in office. Ackerman is right that this is all just political theater. No one in their right mind really thinks that $60 billion a year in defense cuts is going to hurt the nation’s ability to defend itself when we spend nearly a trillion dollars on defense and going to war — that’s not counted in the defense budget — every year. But the Pentagon will do what it always does, target the cuts for key states and congressional districts, especially ones represented by Democrats, and the military-industrial complex will get what it wants — as it always does.

Comments

  1. jeevmon says

    And watch for many of the same people who say that government spending doesn’t create jobs argue that we can’t cut the defense budget because doing so would cause job loss. That’s the kind of hypocrisy which really needs to be called out by someone other than Paul Krugman.

  2. duck1887 says

    “[M]ost of us will move heaven and earth to find an alternative that prevents a sequester from happening.”

    If only there were some way to get citizens – or corporaations! – to contribute to some sort of fund for the military! Has that been looked into? Or is that just crazy talk?

    /irony

  3. says

    duck1887, they could do car washes and bake sales to raise the money.
    Or sell calendars with hunky military men. Anti-gay ministers and closeted Republicans would buy dozens apiece … just, you know, to show their firm support of “the troops.” Very, very firm support.

  4. Michael Heath says

    Ed writes:

    because Congress will pass a bill reversing the sequestration plan in the name of saving America from spending less than 50% of the world’s money on its military.

    I don’t think this is a factually correct premise.

    Ed writes:

    Obama says he’ll veto any bill that attempts to change the original plan and avoid the automatic cuts. Do you believe him? I don’t. That would require a stiffer spine that he has ever shown in office.

    I think the president has repeatedly shown a stiff spine on some very big issues.

    I think his support for TARP was courageous. He could have easily took a populist position which would have supported by his most emotional supporters and which would have severely diluted the emerging Tea Party arguments. Yet he favored the plutocrats as a necessary evil in spite of no longer needing their money since the race was his to lose by the time TARP had to be supported or opposed.

    The president also had no desire to enter office and take the type of fiscal policy actions necessary in a deep recession, especially because he was a black Democrat dealing with a conservative movement not this reactionary since the pre-WWII – Jim Crow days. Yet he worked his ass off to get some stimulus passed both in the Spring of 2009 and late in the year where doing so required abandoning his base’s stimulative preferences.

    i think President Obama showed a lot of spine when it came to finalizing his Afghanistan plans in the Autumn of 2009 when he had to take the Pentagon on face-first, and won. Though he admittedly sacrificed the Constitution when he backed down from the CIA’s implied threats to mutiny if he was aggressive about criminally investigating their administration of torture; so courage is not consistently applied – but it’s also not wholly absent.

  5. Michael Heath says

    jeevmon:

    And watch for many of the same people who say that government spending doesn’t create jobs argue that we can’t cut the defense budget because doing so would cause job loss. That’s the kind of hypocrisy which really needs to be called out by someone other than Paul Krugman.

    And Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, and Fareed Zakaria. Excellent point worth repeating though Mr. Krugman isn’t a lone voice in the wilderness. Instead he’s one of at least several where conservatives have built a sound-proof cocoon which allows their politicians to ignore this fact and most of the main-stream media is too dumb and cowardly to informatively frame policy debates. That enables the right’s avoidance, including its political leaders.

  6. Phillip IV says

    No one in their right mind really thinks that $60 billion a year in defense cuts is going to hurt the nation’s ability to defend itself.

    Especially since, at the current rate of 98.3% graft, $60 billion gets you about a dozen plastic crossbows (fake carbon look) or a big crate of military vehicle replacement headlights (assorted, from overstock).

  7. raven says

    Probably. Political theater indeed.

    FWIW, most economists see a straighforward way out of our mess. Which was troll caused, being a creation of Bushco and the proto-Tea Party. When the deficits started climbing, someone asked Darth Cheney what the plan was. “Deficits don’t matter”. For that, Cheney should spend a few thousand years in hell working part time at a minimum wage McDonald’s job while supporting a family of 5.

    Raise taxes carefully. We are starving the federal budget. Cut expenditures carefully. Backload both and plan on taking 5 to 10 years to get the economy fixed and growing.

    If we don’t do this, it is never going to recover in our lifetimes.

    This is not hard to understand for anyone. It’s basic Keynesian economics. It shows no signs of happening right now.

  8. says

    I agree with raven, but with one minor quibble: we CAN’T “Cut expenditures carefully” anymore, because everything’s already been cut to the bone. That part of a reasonable compromise has ALREADY BEEN DONE. We just have to do the other half of the deal.

  9. raven says

    Clinton: It’s the economy, stupid!!!

    Clinton got it. He left us with a humming economy and a budget surplus. It’s that simple.

    I haven’t been too happy with Obama but he isn’t a total disaster. There are some solid accomplishments in there.

    1. Obama did all the right Keynesian things to fix the Great Recession. It turns out to be a huge monetary shock that is going to take the Great Fix and a decade to recover from.

    He underestimated the problem, but so did everyone else.

    2. He got us out of Iraq. One war down at least.

    3. We even won one of our little wars. Libya. Without spending a trillion dollars a year for a decade.

    4. Repealed DADT. Fought off the christofascists and their cherished plan for a New Dark Age.

    He’s good but not great. The Tea Party are simply nihilists who will destroy us if we let them.

  10. Michael Heath says

    raven:

    Clinton got it. He left us with a humming economy and a budget surplus. It’s that simple.

    It’s not that simple, I wish it were. President Clinton and the attendant Congresses avoided many of the root causes which both created bubbles and allowed a fundamental weakening of the U.S. labor market. It was pre-ordained prior to W. Bush entering office we’d soon have budget deficits and longer labor market recoveries because the CBO failed to consider changing conditions which made past results less correlative to future results, i.e., conditions changed.

    I also disagree with you that we need expenditure cuts, we need more government investment and in some areas, expenditures. Instead we need policies which maximize GDP growth with the following framework:
    Increased median discretionary income
    Lower underemployment rates

    Optimizing these objectives requires fundamental reform of: immigration policies [1], education (to match current/future labor market supply requirements), campaign financing, healthcare financing (beyond Obamacare, which should be the start of the process, not the endgame), federal investments and expenditures favoring growth, and business regulations. I think tax reform [2] is also necessary though I’ve been seeing recent data that argues we can grow GDP and the labor market without it. Then President Bush both did nothing to address these root causes while also implementing polices which both hastened and worsened results.

    What worked in the past will frequently no longer work in the future because we now operate in a much more competitive global marketplace which wasn’t as fully realized in the 1980s and 1990s but became self-evident in the 2000s. So it’s important to be careful about advocating successful policies from the past without first considering whether current factors would allow a repeat.

    1] Much more liberal immigration policies for college students and professionals
    2] Tax policies which favor capital investment and business location and operations here, especially since we can’t and shouldn’t compete with developing economies on healthcare and labor costs, leaving taxes as one area where we could compete.

  11. D. C. Sessions says

    Somehow this analysis presumes that there won’t be riders to any such bill which either:
    a) exempt the social program cuts as well, (goose, gander) or
    b) Apply a PAYGO tax increase over and above the 2013 restoration of pre-Bush rates or
    c) both

    I think (b) is particularly stupid and only slightly better than (c), but it’s still highly likely if the objective is to cause Republicans to go into hysterical catatonia in an election year.

  12. Chris from Europe says

    @raven:
    1. The White House was warned that if they underestimated the need for stimulus, they wouldn’t get a second chance. And they didn’t do much to defend their program, while their enemies did everything they could.

    2. He did by not changing Bush’s plans.

    3. Let’s see how this will develop. I wouldn’t celebrate it as success at this time.

    4. Obama himself was a road block in the DADT repeal, repeatedly threatening vetoes against earlier repeal attempts. I doubt that GetEqual praises Obama’s actions.

    He’s good but not great. The Tea Party are simply nihilists who will destroy us if we let them.

    And Democrats that cannot mount a political defense will aid them.

  13. Michael Heath says

    Chris from Europe:

    Obama himself was a road block in the DADT repeal, repeatedly threatening vetoes against earlier repeal attempts.

    It’s not true the President was a roadblock but in fact was the primary enabler of its passage along with then Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen. Instead the president helped lead this effort with prudence, patience and process. The president and Mullen’s pragmaticism paid-off big time by making it incredibly difficult for the Senate to vote against repeal as many of us correctly predicted (including me in Ed’s older forum).

    The president’s approach resulted in the majority of the military’s commanders and its personnel advocating for repeal and enabling Mullen to become a firm advocate of its repeal. That process removed the only quasi-credible argument anti-gay advocates had, serving the troop’s needs while at war. Removing that barrier and making the military a champion of repeal (with some minority opposition) in turn provided a sufficient number of Senate Republicans to vote for cloture and for passage since the president’s method had the vote to repeal ending up being on the side of the troops.

    The president’s approach was not opposition but instead a spectacular display of playing to win rather than playing to the sentiments of the base’s emotions. Playing to win remains the biggest impediment to liberal success in the U.S., which I think harms the country since when conservatives win, catastrophe follows.

  14. raven says

    1. The White House was warned that if they underestimated the need for stimulus, they wouldn’t get a second chance. And they didn’t do much to defend their program, while their enemies did everything they could.

    1. The countercyclical stimuli from the Fed Reserve and Obama were pretty large.

    The average to recover from a “Severe Monetary Shock” is 10 years according to the Fed. It’s not obvious that any possible stimulus would or could have fixed the economy “soon”.

    2. Most economists think we have to dig ourselves out carefully and slowly. Sometimes things just take a lot of time and quick fixes don’t exist.

    What is for sure is that if we don’t have a rational plan, we won’t ever really fix the economy. It will just lurch from crisis to crisis and go nowhere.

    MH:

    Instead we need policies which maximize GDP growth with the following framework:
    Increased median discretionary income
    Lower underemployment rates

    Sure. Any way we can.

    Right now there is no overall, coherent plan. The Tea Party just wants to cut taxes and impoverish everyone while the economy spirals into oblivion. They really do want the worst for everyone.

  15. says

    The Tea Party are simply nihilists who will destroy us if we let them.

    Nonsense; they are “true believers” Why would a nihilist bother being a teapartier? It doesn’t seem particularly fun. I suppose I could imagine some nihilist could get a thrill out of pretending to be a lemming in hopes of luring other lemmings off a cliff, but if that was the game there are better ways to play it.

    Shorter nihilist: “not one of ours.”

  16. raven says

    I’ll add here that I have several dogs in this fight.

    1. My 401(K) plan fell down and started flopping on the floor a few months ago. It’s dead Jim.

    Netting out contributions, it has gone nowhere since 2000.

    This is true of just about everyone with a 401(K) plan, millions of people.

    Someday, this money will be needed for retirement. We won’t starve but it isn’t like we couldn’t use the money.

    2. Who are getting hit the hardest are young people.
    “The median net worth for younger-age households was $3,662, down by 68% from a quarter century ago,”

    Young people are getting hit hard. They are poorer than we were at that age. We have a lost generation. This subject can’t be expanded upon in a comment box but we are handing our kids a broken world. It’s a wonder they still talk to us.

    Even the birth rate has fallen for 4 years in a row. Tells you everything you need to know.

  17. Michael Heath says

    raven:

    Young people are getting hit hard. They are poorer than we were at that age. We have a lost generation. This subject can’t be expanded upon in a comment box but we are handing our kids a broken world. It’s a wonder they still talk to us.

    They need to turn out and vote. Something my generation (born in 1960) also repeatedly failed and still fail to do, which allows the generation of post-WWII babies who are now retired to dominate. They are the entitlement generation.

    We saw an illustration of this when we repeatedly saw videos of the nuttiness of those who joined the Tea Party and showed up at Town Halls and voted in 2010 compared to those young people who went to Jon Stewart’s rally but couldn’t be bothered into voting in 2010.

  18. says

    But, if we cut the DoD budget, the military/industrial/congressional complex won’t have any money! We can’t have that!!!! What would we spend it on, jobs and infrastructure? No way!

  19. D. C. Sessions says

    The average to recover from a “Severe Monetary Shock” is 10 years according to the Fed. It’s not obvious that any possible stimulus would or could have fixed the economy “soon”.

    And if you read This Time is Different you’ll see that the reason is that every single time the responses are half-hearted and reversed before anything like actual progress has been made.

    Much like our current situation: once the economy stopped falling, we declared victory and “pivoted” to deficit reduction. Which is what happened in 1937, in Japan, etc. The deep thinkers on this advise that what we should be doing is targeting nominal GDP growth instead, which would mean that we need several years of more-than-trend growth to catch up.

    And that wasn’t anyone’s plan, never mind opposition.

  20. Dennis N says

    That’s the kind of hypocrisy which really needs to be called out by someone other than Paul Krugman.

    And Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, and Fareed Zakaria. Excellent point worth repeating though Mr. Krugman isn’t a lone voice in the wilderness.

    I don’t know if anyone else here watches Up with Chris Hayes but it’s a bit of oxygen amid the suffocatingly establishment weekend political shows like Meet the Press.

  21. Chris from Europe says

    I’m not convinced that a reasonable approach for DADT repeal would have failed. It would have been a good thing to put the military in its place. It should also be noted that his approach got a number of gay people fired and didn’t produce anti-discrimination laws for the military.

    Re adequacy of the stimulus:
    Wasn’t a large share of the stimulus used to keep municipalities and states going? Should money to prevent cuts be counted as stimulus at all?

    Does monetary expansion help people that are currently excluded from the labor market? He could have used the Fed’s actions to do a lot more for the unemployed, underemployed and failing US infrastructure.

    They should have produced a budget instead of cooperating with the Republicans who had no intention to vote for the results. And then they failed to adjust the debt ceiling as long as they (the Democrats) could.

  22. Dennis N says

    It would have been a good thing to put the military in its place.

    Obviously you’re talking about the wrong country. We slavishly worship our military here, just look at any discussion about our wars, always deferring to generals. One of the beauties of our Constitution is that we have a de jure civilian head of our military. There are some segments if political thought that would like this de facto abolished.

  23. Pierce R. Butler says

    Certain lefties, viewing Obama’s most recent Pacific (Ocean Rim, not literally pacific) initiatives, ask questions like, “Why Does Obama Suddenly Want a War with China?

    Though the framing of that headline has a typically 21st-century hyperbole, I submit that the “sequestration crisis” needs to be remembered each time we hear the rattling of a sword.

  24. Michael Heath says

    Dennis N writes:

    I don’t know if anyone else here watches Up with Chris Hayes but it’s a bit of oxygen amid the suffocatingly establishment weekend political shows like Meet the Press.

    I was not originally impressed with young Mr. Hayes when he was used by MSNBC hosts to provide a factual framing of the issues along with a purposefully liberal slant on the segment’s conclusions. He seemed to be used as a liberal sycophantic foil used to pile-on to points we knew were already coming from the MSNBC host. The world doesn’t need future generations of Mr. Obvious Gene Robinson, who serves an equivalent purpose with even less respectable results. My observation was particularly frustrating because I thought and still think Chris Hayes possesses a lot of talent and potential.

    However in his guest host spots for Rachel Maddow I thought he was consistently outstanding, losing the smirk and doing a bang-up job of presenting a compelling though still decidedly liberal argument (nothing wrong with that). Compelling because he provided sufficient framing (unlike Maddow) and took on not just the conservatives best arguments as Maddow does and which are currently easy to dismiss, but also frequently considered reasonable non-partisan arguments which oppose his own. Therefore I’m happy you flagged you that Mr. Hayes has his own show and look forward to checking it out.

  25. Aquaria says

    Heath @ 14

    It’s not that simple, I wish it were. President Clinton and the attendant Congresses avoided many of the root causes which both created bubbles and allowed a fundamental weakening of the U.S. labor market.

    On this, we can agree. See: The dot.com bubble. See: The housing bubble. See: The service sector employment bubble.

    It was pre-ordained prior to W. Bush entering office we’d soon have budget deficits and longer labor market recoveries because the CBO failed to consider changing conditions which made past results less correlative to future results, i.e., conditions changed.

    To be fair, what was going on at the CBO wasn’t Clinton’s doing–he had absolutely no authority over who Newt Gingrich put in place there. As you can imagine, the CBO was under enormous pressure under O’Neill and Crippen, to do things the Gingrich/Delay way–or else.

    Raven:

    2. Most economists think we have to dig ourselves out carefully and slowly. Sometimes things just take a lot of time and quick fixes don’t exist.

    See: Japan. They’re still trying to crawl out of the hole that their stock and housing bubble collapse of 1991 created (ushinawareta nijuunen, or Lost Years). It’s scary how similar our situation is to theirs. The one key difference that concerns me is that the Japanese were able to stay afloat better thanks to personal savings, while Americans have been riding a wave of personal debt to stay afloat. That can’t turn out well.

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