Experts Skeptical That Debt Deal Will Result In Significant Military Spending Cuts

This afternoon, the Senate approved the debt deal that the House of Representatives passed last night. The deal will raise the debt ceiling $2.3 trillion and in exchange will cut and cap federal spending in ways largely considered to be deleterious to the economy.

However, the deal does contain possible defense cuts. The Obama administration claims the deal would reduce defense spending by $350 billion over ten years, and a trigger mechanism and super committee contained within the deal may bring about greater cuts.

Yet a number of leading defense and foreign policy experts are now expressing skepticism about the actual size of these cuts, suggesting they may be much smaller than at first claimed.

The Straus Military Reform Project’s Winslow Wheeler argues that the method used for calculating the $350 billion number is untrustworthy and that the final amount that will be cut will “be decided by Congress in the future”:


There are numerous misleading and misinformed assertions being made about the defense spending parts of the debt deal. […] The $350 billion in defense savings that the White House declares apparently uses a different “baseline” (basis of comparison) and pretends that a two year cap the bill establishes on “security” spending will extend to ten years.

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin notes that the bill uses a wide definition of “security” spending and could allow cuts to come down in non-Department of Defense areas to be defined as defense spending, including even in foreign aid:

But if you look at the text of the bill, there is simply no language on how much the defense budget will actually be cut. What the bill does is set spending caps for “security” spending, which the administration defines as defense, homeland security, intelligence, nuclear weapons, diplomacy, and foreign aid. There’s no breakdown that defines which of these agencies get what, so there’s no way to be sure that all the cuts would come from “defense.”

The Center for International Policy’s William Hartung notes that the cuts may reduce projected Pentagon spending “by less than one percent”:

In the short-term, the budget deal crafted by the president and the congressional leadership gives the Pentagon virtually a free ride. It reduces projected Pentagon spending by less than one percent. […] Real cuts in Pentagon expenditures can be imposed without reducing our security. Any longer-term deal should reflect this reality.

Going forward, advocates for defense cuts will have to be wary about the sort of reductions that can actually be made under this framework. Of course, Congress is always free to reduce defense expenditures independent of this deal.