FPI Bulletin: President Still Silent on How to Halt Devastating Defense Cuts

April 4, 2012

From FPI Policy Director Robert Zarate and Policy Analyst Evan Moore

In a high-profile speech yesterday, President Obama took aim at the budget plan put forward by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) that seeks to reverse looming, across-the-board cuts to national defense that automatically kick in on January 2, 2013.  Although the President called the Ryan budget a “prescription for decline,” his speech was notably silent on how he would halt massive cuts to military spending that both Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have described as “devastating” and “very high risk.”
 
Unless current law is changed, defense spending will be slashed by roughly $1 trillion over the next decade.  In February 2012, President Obama submitted to Congress a proposed budget that only partially implements these mandated cuts, cleaving $487 billion in long-term military spending.  However, the President’s budget offered no clear plan either to implement—or, better yet, to prevent—the remaining $500 billion in year-by-year “sequestration” cuts to the Pentagon automatically required by current law due to the failure of the White House and Capitol Hill last year to agree to any major long-term federal deficit reductions.  What Obama has signaled, though, is his intention to veto any legislation to halt sequestration that does not include tax hikes.
 
There is an extraordinarily broad understanding among both civilian and military leaders that the trillion-dollar cut to the military will be catastrophic to America’s national security.  Although the conventional wisdom in Washington holds that the falling guillotine can be easily stopped at the last second by the President and Congress after the November 2012 elections, that’s far from certain.  But what is clear is that, if current law isn’t changed quickly, then the Pentagon will have to begin to plan for and preemptively implement sequestration cuts this summer.
 
Recognizing this, Chairman Ryan’s budget seeks to restore $214 billion of the $487 billion in defense spending reductions proposed by President Obama’s budget—while, at the same time, slashing federal outlays by $6.2 trillion over the next decade.  Importantly, the Ryan budget also offers a plan to begin reversing the haphazard sequestration cuts to the military by instead responsibly reducing spending in other areas of government.
 
Although President Obama has dismissed the Ryan budget as a non-starter, his refusal so far to provide his own clear plan to reverse sequestration cuts to national defense places him at odds with his own Secretary of Defense, who has likened these cuts to “shooting ourselves in the head”.  But it appears increasingly likely that the Obama administration intends to hold spending on the U.S. military hostage—unless Congress concedes and agrees to raise taxes.
 
American taxpayers—and the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces—deserve better. 
 
Last year, the President stated that “as Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than protecting our national security, and I will never accept cuts that compromise our ability to defend our homeland or America’s interests around the world."  Yesterday, he remarked that the United States is still the world’s “indispensable nation” and that “we are still looked to for leadership, for agenda setting—not just because of our size, not just because of our military power, but because there is a sense that unlike most superpowers in the past, we try to set out a set of universal rules, a set of principles by which everybody can benefit.”   
 
So President Obama recognizes, at least in his rhetoric, the importance of American military power and global leadership.  But by failing to offer any clear plan to halt looming cuts to national defense spending, the President risks effectively undermining the pillars of American strength—and that, to borrow from Obama’s own words, is a “prescription for decline.”

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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