I was assured by two people on Capitol Hill I trust yesterday that this post on the defense cuts was erroneous, then a conservative senator I trust told me it’s basically accurate. Suffice it to say, it’s all very confusing and a reason why Republicans had pledged to have bills out there for three days before voting on them. The case that the first tranche of cuts won’t be that dire is that the bill creates a bucket of general security spending for FY12 and FY13 and funds can be shifted around from other security areas — homeland security, foreign aid, etc. — to keep defense whole. After those two years, there’s just a global cap on discretionary spending, so defense needn’t be hit. People who make this case argue that the $350 billion in cuts in defense in the first tranche was just a number made up by the White House. The counter case is that, given the reality of how difficult it is going to be to get much money from the other security categories, defense will be squeezed down the first two years and extrapolating from that, you get something like that $350 billion projection in cuts. Here is what the New York Times is reporting today:
Under the terms of the debt ceiling deal, agreed to on Sunday by Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders to avoid an impending default by the United States, so-called security spending would be capped at $684 billion in 2012, compared with $689 billion that is being spent this year. Security spending includes the Pentagon, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs and intelligence spending, among others.
This year, the Pentagon got $529 billion of the $689 billion in security spending. What is not yet known about the reduced total of $684 billion in security spending for 2012 is whether Congress will hit the Pentagon with the entire $5 billion cut — budget analysts said that was unlikely — or whether the reductions will be spread throughout government agencies, or perhaps even leave the Pentagon untouched.
“This is political kabuki,” said Gordon Adams, a professor at American University who oversaw military spending in the Clinton budget office. “We really don’t have anything hard to get our arms around.”
Next year’s military cuts are more substantial, however, if lawmakers look at a different number: $553 billion, the amount Mr. Obama requested from Congress for the Pentagon in the budget for the 2012 fiscal year. Congress has not passed that budget, and at least one Congressional committee has already reduced the White House request.
But Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a public policy research group in Washington, estimated that with $553 billion as a starting point, reductions in the 2012 Pentagon budget under the debt ceiling deal could amount to $37 billion less than the Pentagon was expecting. In that case, he said, “the department is going to cry foul.”
Over the next 10 years, the White House says the immediate caps on all spending will cut $1 trillion from the budget. Of that, some $350 billion is estimated to come from the Pentagon, although administration officials provided no details of how they reached that conclusion.