President Obama's claims on defense are deceptive

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President Barack Obama asserted at Wednesday’s presidential debate that Governor Mitt Romney wants to spend “$2 trillion in additional spending that the military is not asking for.” Obama’s assertion echoes his earlier claim at the Democratic National Convention that Romney wants to “spend more money on military hardware that our joint chiefs don’t even want.” However, Obama’s claim is deceptive, and hides the genuine debate that’s erupted between him and his Republican rival over the future of the servicemen and servicewomen in the U.S. military. 

The truth is, the Pentagon’s civilian and military leadership have gone on record to say that Obama’s current budget plan for defense—which would cut $487 billion over the next decade—is just barely able to meet America’s current strategy for national defense. In February 2012, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told House lawmakers that Obama’s current budget plan appears to provide the minimum needed to fund the military’s current strategy to defend the United States, but then quickly warned:  “Anything beyond this [level of defense cuts], we have to go back to the drawing board on the strategy” (emphasis added). At the same congressional hearing, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta added: “If additional efforts are made to go after the defense budget, I think it could have a serious impact in terms of our ability to implement the strategy.”

Moreover, President Obama is doing little-to-nothing to change current law to prevent "sequestration," an additional and massive $500 billion cut to long-term defense spending that automatically starts on January 2, 2013. Rather, he's demanded that any effort to reverse the sequester must be accompanied by increased taxes. In effect, Obama is holding the men and women of the U.S. military as hostages in his larger effort to coerce Congress to hike taxes.

What’s troubling is that the Pentagon’s civilian and military leadership strongly opposes sequestration. In February 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta bluntly warned that sequestration will “result in hollowing-out the force and inflicting severe damage to our national defense.”  General Dempsey added: “In my personal military judgment, formed over 38 years, we are living in the most dangerous time in my lifetime right now, and I think sequestration would be completely oblivious to that, and counterproductive.”

In a controversial move, the Obama administration also has told defense contractors that will be impacted by sequestration cuts to ignore the law and not to issue 60-day layoff warning notices that are legally required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 (WARN Act).  What’s worse, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) says that the federal government will use taxpayer money to cover the legal costs if defense contractors disregard the law.  As the American Enterprise Institute’s Gary Schmitt explains:

OMB stated that, if a company follows the administration’s advice but the federal courts—whose job it is under the act’s terms to enforce the law—nevertheless find the company as having violated the act, the company’s liability, civil penalties and even lawyer’s fees can all be passed on to the contracting agency—in this case the Pentagon, one of its agencies, or the military services—as ‘allowable’ program costs.  In short, OMB is saying that money appropriated by Congress for, say, for developing a particular weapon system can now be used to cover the costs of ignoring a law.

However, sixty days prior to sequestration’s start is November 2—less than a week away from Election Day—and multiple independent reports have estimate that sequestration could cumulatively nix as many as 1 million American jobs in the defense industry and related sectors. The political implications of pre-election WARN Act notices are obvious, and the Obama administration appears to be doing everything it can, including encouraging defense contractors to break law, in order to prevent these notifications from going out.

President Obama has said 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.”  But while Obama’s $487 billion in defense cuts risks comprising America’s national security and international interests, his adamant refusal to halt the additional $500 billion in sequestration cuts to the Pentagon would all but guarantee that dangerous outcome.

- Originally posted on The Weekly Standard Blog

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