Seventy-nine percent of National Journal’s National Security Insiders believe that when Congress returns in mid-November, members will punt sequestration for a few months as hope wanes for a broader deal to avoid the sweeping $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, roughly half from defense.
Chatter about the possibility of a short-term fix to avert sequestration for a few months increased in the lead-up to congressional recess, but a compromise to reduce the deficit remains elusive on Capitol Hill—meaning the Pentagon is facing $55 billion in additional cuts to its budget to take effect next year. “Punting seems to be the favorite sport of congressmen these days,” one Insider said. “... The best Congress will be able to do is to move the goalposts and leave any solution to the next Congress and administration.”
Congress has been unable to solve even the simplest problems in this session, another Insider added, “which does not inspire confidence in their ability to do anything more than kick the can down the road a bit.”
Another Insider said a continuing resolution would delay the sequester for six months, and an omnibus spending bill would likely keep defense spending afloat six months after that. “Sometime during this period, the Congress will likely agree to a comprehensive plan that takes Simpson-Bowles as its basis, or otherwise financial markets will begin penalizing U.S. government borrowing.”
Several Insiders said the outcome of the presidential election could be decisive when it comes to compromise on Capitol Hill. Defense hawks pushing for a compromise that spares defense are sure to be shot down, since President Obama has refused to accept a deal that spares defense cuts at the expense of steeper reductions in social programs. GOP nominee Mitt Romney, for his part, has indicated that he would protect the defense budget from sequestration if elected, and even roll back the initial tranche of $500 billion in cuts that the military has already said it could safely absorb. If Romney wins, Republicans could be less inclined to retreat on taxes and move toward a broader compromise.
A mere 13 percent said members would make a grand bargain on the deficit—but only 9 percent believed sequestration would actually go into effect on Jan. 2 in its full capacity. “In the end, they will reach some semblance of a deal to avoid sequestration,” said one Insider, who lamented such a compromise. “The only way the Pentagon will ever go on a serious diet is if forced. There are too many in Congress with political reasons, as opposed to national-security reasons, for keeping the military on its high-fat diet.”
1. When Congress returns for the lame-duck session, members will:
- Punt the sequester for a few months 79%
- Compromise, and avoid sequestration/defense cuts 13%
- Fail to compromise, and sequestration will take effect 8%
Punt the sequester:
“Compromise possible. Punt typical.”
“Depends on whether control of the House or Senate changes.”
“Congress will definitely not act in December—too many other things on its plate. If Obama wins, the lame-duck might punt for an entire year; if he loses, it may not punt at all, or at most, until March 31, when the CR expires.”
“In thrall of the economic crisis, nobody wants to touch this political hot potato.”
“The lame-duck session will last about a week and a half after the election before breaking for Thanksgiving, then return for two weeks before breaking for the holidays. Given that they have not been able to accomplish anything substantial in two years, I see no reason to believe they will suddenly become effective during these two remaining work periods.”
“Why come to a permanent solution when you can kick the can down the road and play politics for a few more months?”
“The presidential election will provide enough catharsis to get a compromise—but only to kick the can down the road a few months.”
“In the end, they will reach some semblance of a deal to avoid sequestration, which is unfortunate. The only way the Pentagon will ever go on a serious diet is if forced. There are too many in Congress with political reasons, as opposed to national-security reasons, for keeping the military on its high-fat diet.”
Fail to compromise:
“The outcome of the election may have some effect, but the most likely outcome is that sequestration will happen—and the real impact will be on the domestic agencies.”
“It is not merely a bad period in a low epoch; it’s a dysfunctional constitutional model."
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts.
National Security Insiders Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel “Sandy” Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, 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, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.
This article appears in the October 3, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.