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National Security Insiders Poll / INSIDERS POLL

National Security Insiders: Super Committee Will Cut Additional Billions in Defense

Investment accounts and military personnel are likely targets for cuts.

(DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Andy Dunaway, U.S. Air Force)

photo of Sara Sorcher
September 11, 2011

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?

(47 votes)

  • 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%

None 

"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."

$101 billion to $200 billion

"This should not be interpreted as desirable (just likely)."

$201 billion to $300 billion 

"Gates did a lot to trim spending, but it wasn't enough given the predicament the country now finds itself in."

More than $300 billion 

"The proposed $350 billion cut over 10 years, or $35 billion per year, is only about 5% of annual defense spending. The super committee will be hard-pressed to do less than double this reduction because of declining supoort 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."

"And they should; $1 trillion is 15 percent of projected defense budget requests over the next 10years. Reductions from the appetite of that magnitude would be a lower slope of build-down than any previous build-down we have executed."

2. What areas of the budget are the most likely target for cuts?

(47 votes, respondents were allowed to pick more than one answer)

  • Investment accounts  49%
  • Military personnel  49%
  • Health care  36%
  • Other military benefits/pay  17%
  • Other  15%

Investment accounts

"Investment accounts will be hit first. 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."

"The committee should focus on health care costs; retirement reform, civilian personnel cuts, and staff augmentation work by contractors. But it is more likely to take the easy way out and focus primarily on acquisition."

"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."

Military personnel 

"End strength, especially ground forces, will be cut because public support has plummetted for personnel-intensive, large-scale counterinsurgency wars."

"Always the people and the weapons, first, in a build-down. Mission creep needs to be reined in, too."

Health care

"Tricare co-pay makes sense."

"Secretary Gates's slight increase in Tricare premiums for retirees still left them paying less than 15 percent of what federal civilian retirees pay. This is becoming less sustainable politically."

Other military benefits/pay

"Personnel support accounts hold most potential for reductions."

Other

"Logistics and sustainment. Look for merger of DLA and TRANSCOM and creation of long-term sustainment contracts. Another BRAC round is in the wind."

"Cuts of that size [more than $300 billion] mean cuts in every category--investment; pay and benefits; overall personnel and force structure; operations; and overhead. Watch for another BRAC!"

"Civilians. Likely to be some from each of the five (with "travel, training, and research" leading--based on prior periods of cuts).


National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign policy experts. They include:

Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Kit Bond, Paula Broadwell, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Richard Danzig, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Jacques Gansler, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Donald Kerrick, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Kevin Nealer, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Dov Zakheim.

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