A whopping 83 percent of National Journal’s National Security Insiders, many with budget-cutting or policy experience, said that the super committee will slash more from the Pentagon's budget than the $350 billion in defense cuts over the next 10 years that's already on the table. Still, they're divided over how many billions the joint congressional panel will ultimately decide to trim--and over what areas of the Pentagon's budget will be the likeliest targets for cuts.
Thirty-four percent of Insiders said that the super committee, while seeking a compromise to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion, will trim up to $100 billion more from the Pentagon’s coffers than expected. The debt-ceiling deal's planned cutbacks to defense is largely in line with a similar proposal that President Obama announced in April.
“The committee is going to be painfully aware that it can't make these cuts without reducing our military capabilities--but it will probably make them anyway,” one Insider said. “Every part of the federal budget will have its defenders claiming it should be immune, but they'll all fail.”
Another 13 percent of Insiders said that the committee could suggest nearly double the anticipated cuts. “The proposed $350 billion cut over 10 years, or $35 billion per year, is only about 5 percent of annual defense spending,” one Insider said. “The super committee will be hard-pressed to do less than double this reduction because of declining support for the Afghanistan war and because of sure-fire domestic political heat, which will be kindled by the likely cuts of much greater than 10 percent per year for a number of domestic agencies with strong domestic constituencies.”
When asked what areas of the Pentagon's budget are most likely to be scaled back, 49 percent said that prime targets were the Pentagon's investment accounts, like procurement, and research and development. An equal plurality of 49 percent of Insiders said a further reduction in the size of the force is likely.
“Investment accounts will be hit first,” one Insider said. “One reason is that so many over-budget and delayed programs have caused public dismay about under-performing big-ticket programs, such as the F-35. A second reason is that, President Eisenhower notwithstanding, defense industry has less political clout than military personnel and their support groups."
The other 49 percent plurality said that a reduction in the size of the force is likely. "End strength, especially ground forces, will be cut because public support has plummeted for personnel-intensive, large-scale counterinsurgency wars."
Thirty-six percent of Insiders said revamping the military’s health care system and increasing co-pays is a key target for future cuts. “[Former Defense Secretary Robert] Gates' slight increase in Tricare premiums for retirees still left them paying less than 15% of what federal civilian retirees pay. This is becoming less sustainable politically,” one Insider said.
Others were less certain. “DOD spends more on health care than all of its weapons systems combined but that and personnel cuts have been a third rail for Congress. With troops deployed in harm’s way it is likely to be a nonstarter with lawmakers,” one said.
It's not going to be an easy battle between the budget hawks and the defense hawks in the coming weeks. But as one Insider put it: “Tough times call for tough measures.”
1. How much more than the $350 billion in defense cuts already on the table over the next decade will the supercommittee trim from the Pentagon’s budget?
- None 17%
- $1 billion to $100 billion 34%
- $101 billion to $200 billion 25.5%
- $201 billion to $300 billion 10.5%
- More than $300 billion 13%
"Any additional cuts will be overturned by congressional action in 2012."
"I hope none."
$1 billion to $100 billion
"Republicans will not want to cut any more but they will have to cut some."
"The committee is going to be painfully aware that it can't make these cuts without reducing our military capabilities--but it will probably make them anyway. Every part of the federal budget will have its defenders claiming it should be immune, but they'll all fail."
This article appears in the September 12, 2011 edition of NJ Daily.