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.