Defense and the Debt: Discipline is Good; Sequesters are Not
Secretary Panetta was on point yesterday when he warned against a sequester of defense funding beyond the first tranche of budget disciplne in the new debt agreement.
But the point he was making is important. What is not desirable is a sequester - a blunt, across-the-board reduction in agency budgets. It is about the worst way to cut a budget I know, for it is not driven by planning and choice-making, just mechanics.
What is likely, however, is a deeper reduction in defense budgets than the $400 billion or so over the next decade currently in the debt agreement plan and being implemented by the Pentagon. That's easy - we could provide DOD with inflation growth over the next ten years and the savings from the current Pentagon budget appetite would be more than $400 billion.
But, as in the past three build-downs that have come (after Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War), the slope down from the current appetite is likely, very likely, to be deeper. And it can be managed. $900 billion over ten years, after all, is only 13% of currently projected defense budgets over the decade. The last build-down we did (started by George H.W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, and Chairman Colin Powell and finished by Clinton and his budget chief, Leon Panetta) saw DOD outlays fall more than 35% between 1985 and 1998.
A $900 billion build-down over the next decade would be more modest and can be done. For more thoughts and data, see my post today at Battland. For ideas on how to execute it that leave a powerful, globally dominant military in place, see the piece I wrote with my Stimson Center colleague Matt Leatherman in Foreign Affairs in January, at the Stimson blog, The Will and the Wallet.