StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between

GOP Throws Defense Spending Way Under The Budget Bus In The Sequester

03 Mar 2013
Posted by Stan Collender

I don't use the word "defense" much when talking about the federal budget because it always prejudices the conversation. U.S. military spending isn't always defensive; it often is appropriately offensive and changing the name in 1949 from the Department of War to the Department of Defense should go down as one of the top 10 greatest public relations achievements of all time.

So why did I violate my own rule and use the word "defense" in the headline to this post? To make a point: In spite of all the spin and all the warm feelings Americans supposedly have about the military, Congress was more than willing to throw defense spending under the budget bus in the sequester. When it was a question of tax increases and Medicare reductions vs the Pentagon, not only did the Pentagon lose, but it wasn't even on the field or the same game.

It's important to note that this big time defeat came in spite of a large campaign by military contractors to limit the impact of the sequester on the Pentagon. For much of the past year, one of the military community's most powerful organizations -- the Aerospace Industries Association -- spent millions on a highly coordinated effort that included studies showing the projected job losses from the sequester reductions. Many of the largest and previously most powerful companies repeatedly went public in a big way about the layoffs they said they might have to implement if the sequester went into effect.

And several of Congress' previously most influential members on military spending and policy -- think Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a previous GOP presidential nominee and a former prisoner of war -- wasn't able to come close to convincing his colleagues that the Pentagon sequester reductions shouldn't happen.

There have been indications that that military spending is no longer as sacrosanct and untouchable as it has been in the past since August 2011. That was when the sequester was included in the debt ceiling deal between the White House and Congress and the GOP decided that it vastly preferred an automatic cut in the Pentagon to the automatic tax increase the White House proposed.

That preference was reaffirmed in November 2011 when the anything-but-super committee failed to come up with a deficit reduction plan than could have prevented or limited the military spending reductions. That failure triggered the sequester that included the Pentagon cuts.

The GOP then decided in the fiscal cliff deal in January 2013 not to insist that military spending be protected. Instead, it chose to keep the sequester -- including the Pentagon reductions -- in place rather than agree to a larger tax increase.

But the key tell occurred several months ago when the Aerospace Industry Association let it be known that it had fired the outside lobbyists and public relations consultants that had been hired to prevent the military portion of the sequester. AIA said that it wasn't stopping its efforts, just shifting the work to its own staff. That was a clear sign that the military community had realized that it wouldn't be able to stop what was coming.


I'm surprised at the sequester outcome - I fully expected an eleventh hour kicking of the can for another month or two.

The CR expiration is going to be a big deal. It's less than 4 weeks away. Neither side seems eager to even discuss an approach. I wouldn't be surprised to see a series of short term (e.g. one week) CR extensions culminating in an actual government shutdown for a couple of days, before the end of April.


I have seen pieces on TPM stating that the HR will vote on a seven month CR at FY2012 levels within a week. The sequester will still apply to these expenditures. TPM has also had pieces suggesting the Democrats will accept this, betting everything on taking the House in 2014.

Re: CR

The new CR to which you refer would preserve the overall level of cuts implemented by the sequester but would restore much of the military spending that was cut. It would make up the difference by implementing additional cuts to entitlements and other domestic programs. I just don't see the Dems going along with that.

Department of Defense

A minor historical quibble: The Department of War did not simply change its name to the Department of Defense. Rather, the Department of Defense was a new department which was formed to consolidate administration of the military. Prior to 1947, the Department of War and Department of the Navy were completely separate, cabinet-level positions. The Department of Defense (originally called the National Military Establishment) absorbed the Departments of the Army (renamed from War) and Navy.

Tedious, Unhelpful Note of Thanks

Just a brief note of thanks for writing all this, which should be said, so I didn't have to. And for doing so more clearly and in fewer words than I would have.

We have a two platoon

We have a two platoon national security operation. What is called the "Department of Defense" is actually the "Department of Offense." It goes off and attacks countries for some reason or other. The "Department of Homeland Security" and possibly the Coast Guard represents the "Department of Defense." Sometimes ok, sometimes not, but that's what we have for actual defense from realistic attack threats. Deal with it.

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