A 12-member “super committee” set up in the debt ceiling deal is tasked with coming up with $1.5 trillion in spending cuts before the end of the year but failure to get an agreement would trigger nearly $600 billion in cuts to national security spending. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been campaigning to prevent further cuts to the Pentagon’s budget, having called the trigger a “doomsday mechanism” for the Defense Department. Except Panetta hasn’t offered any details as to how he has come to this conclusion, and experts have pointed out that the U.S. can easily sustain even more military spending reductions than those that are contained in the the trigger.
Yet, Panetta was at it again during a joint appearance with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this morning at the National Defense University. Clinton maintained that in order to reduce the debt and deficit, “everything” has to be on the table, including the State Department budget, which is measly in comparison to DOD’s. But Panetta couldn’t hold back, calling the spending cuts trigger “devastating.” Panetta continued:
“It would result in hollowing out the force. It would terribly weaken our ability to respond to the threats in the world. But more importantly, it would break faith with the troops and with their families,” Panetta said. “And a volunteer army is absolutely essential to our national defense. Any kind of cut like that would literally undercut our ability to put together the kind of strong national defense we have today.”
In a letter to the editor in the Washington Post last weekend, CAP defense budget expert Larry Korb explained that this is nonsense:
Even if the defense budget were reduced by the entire $1 trillion, or about $100 billion a year over the next decade, it would amount to a reduction of about 15 percent. This would, in real terms, allow the Pentagon to spend at its 2007 level for the next decade. Our equipment is aging not because of a lack of funds but because of poor management of this gusher of defense spending. Over the past decade, the Pentagon has spent about $50 billion on weapons it had to cancel, and cost overruns on major weapons programs have neared $300 billion.
In 2007, the United States enjoyed military superiority over every other nation on earth many times over; the U.S. maintained its military presence around the world and surged in Iraq after four years of war there — all while fighting a war in Afghanistan since 2001. Yet, despite the U.S. military’s strength at that time, Panetta appears to believe that making the Pentagon hark back to its 2007 budgets would be “devastating.”