How Syria Will Affect the Sequester Fight

Republicans say we’re starving the military of necessary funds. Experts are less convinced.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
Sept. 5, 2013, 4:15 a.m.

Sen. James In­hofe of Ok­lahoma, the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee’s top Re­pub­lic­an, says the United States can’t af­ford to get in­to a con­flict with Syr­ia giv­en the dra­coni­an budget cuts that are due to hit the na­tion’s mil­it­ary.

The Pentagon faces more than $500 bil­lion in spend­ing cuts over the next dec­ade un­der auto­mat­ic fed­er­al spend­ing cuts known as se­quest­ra­tion, $54 bil­lion of that is sched­uled to hit in 2014. That’s above and bey­ond the $487 bil­lion in cuts that already planned in the Pentagon’s budget for 2013.

“Our mil­it­ary has no money left,” In­hofe said in a re­cent state­ment. “As Sec. [Chuck] Hagel, Adm. [James] Win­nefeld, and I have dis­cussed be­fore, we have a fin­an­cial crisis in our mil­it­ary,” In­hofe ad­ded. “We have a starving mil­it­ary.”

Oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans have echoed that sen­ti­ment. Rep. Buck McK­eon, R-Cal­if., chair­man of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, made the case Monday on CNN: “We can­not keep ask­ing the mil­it­ary to per­form mis­sion after mis­sion with se­quest­ra­tion and mil­it­ary cuts hanging over their heads.”

Gor­don Adams, a de­fense budget ex­pert at Amer­ic­an Uni­versity who served in the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Budget dur­ing the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, re­cently told the Los Angeles Times that cut­ting mil­it­ary costs could be done simply by re­du­cing mil­it­ary per­son­nel and con­tract­ors in ad­min­is­trat­ive jobs. And mil­it­ary of­fi­cials have ar­gued that the cost of fir­ing cruise mis­siles at se­lect Syr­i­an tar­gets can be “re­l­at­ively eas­ily ab­sorbed.”

So, what gives?

Pres­id­ent Obama has said he won’t put “boots on the ground in Syr­ia,” but mil­it­ary plan­ners are still pre­par­ing for any pos­sible “con­tin­gen­cies,” as un­der­scored by their de­cision to dis­patch the USS Nim­itz car­ri­er strike group to the Red Sea. The pro­spect of deep­er mil­it­ary in­volve­ment in Syr­ia fol­low­ing a strike may well raise ques­tions about wheth­er se­quest­ra­tion should con­tin­ue as planned.

In­volve­ment in Syr­ia would bol­ster the ar­gu­ment for find­ing sav­ings else­where, ac­cord­ing to Thomas Mann of the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion. “I think an af­firm­at­ive vote on an au­thor­iz­a­tion to use mil­it­ary force in Syr­ia would cla­ri­fy the ir­ra­tion­al­ity of the se­quester,” he ex­plained, “and strengthen the ar­gu­ment for re­pla­cing it with a more de­fens­ible set of spend­ing caps phased in as the eco­nomy more fully re­cov­ers, mod­est ad­di­tion­al sav­ings in Medi­care, and tax in­creases.”

Steve Bell, seni­or dir­ect­or of the Bi­par­tis­an Policy Cen­ter, isn’t con­vinced that al­ter­ing the con­ver­sa­tion will be ne­ces­sary. “Quite frankly, the way we hear it out­lined, [the cost] will prob­ably be able to be sub­sumed as the Libya activ­ity was with­in the cur­rent budget.”

He adds, “Un­less we’re talk­ing about something like a no-fly zone or ‘boots on the ground,’ then I think they’ll be able to do this with­in their budget now, and se­quest­ra­tion will not have an im­pact.”

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4425) }}

What We're Following See More »
Trump Jr. Meeting with GOP Members
10 hours ago
US Nukes Rely on Decades-Old Tech
10 hours ago
Ryan Not Endorsing Trump Just Yet
14 hours ago
State Dept. Review Faults Clinton Email Management
16 hours ago

"A State Department audit has faulted Hillary Clinton and previous secretaries of state for poorly managing email and other computer information and slowly responding to new cybersecurity risks. ... It cites 'longstanding, systemic weaknesses' related to communications. These started before Clinton's appointment as secretary of state, but her failures were singled out as more serious."

Trump Rolls in Washington Primary
16 hours ago

Donald Trump "was on course to win more than three-quarters of the vote in Washington's primary" last night. Ted Cruz's defunct candidacy still pulled about 10 percent. "Cruz dropped out of the race on May 3, but won 40 of the state's 41 delegates up for grabs at last weekend's state GOP convention."