Press Release

RELEASE: Defense Cuts After the Debt Deal

By Lawrence J. Korb, Sam Klug, Alex Rothman | August 11, 2011

To read the full column, click here.

To watch the Ask the Expert video “Getting Defense Spending Under Control,” click here.

Washington, D.C. — The cuts to national security spending in the recent deal to raise the debt ceiling have attracted significant criticism from conservative commentators who argue that these cuts are unexpected, unprecedented, and threatening to our national security. Today the Center for American Progress released the brief “Defense Cuts After the Debt Deal,” which shows that, in reality, any reductions in military spending resulting from the deal are likely to be moderate, at best.

The Obama administration estimates the bill will reduce total security spending by $420 billion over the next 10 years, with $350 billion or just more than 80 percent of those cuts coming from the Pentagon. But few of these cuts are specifically mandated by the bill. The $350 billion figure assumes that Congress will voluntarily maintain similar caps on security spending through 2021 in order to meet the bill’s $1.5 trillion target for overall spending reductions. Given Congress’s terrible track record on reining in defense spending over the past decade, the likelihood that a significant portion of these cuts will never materialize remains high.

The debt ceiling deal does set hard caps on security spending for the next two years, limiting the security budget to $684 billion in 2012 and $686 billion in 2013. These reductions, however, amount to less than 1 percent of the security budget, which currently stands at $688.5 billion. Further, due to the debt ceiling deal’s broad definition of “security spending”—which encompasses funding for the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, and State, as well as the country’s intelligence agencies—Congress could potentially keep security spending within the caps without touching DOD spending at all, instead slashing the budgets of the other, already underfunded “security” agencies.

A number of individuals, groups, and organizations from across the political spectrum have released plans over the past year to help combat the federal deficit by returning defense spending to more fiscally sustainable levels. Most significantly, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission, the Project on Government Oversight/Taxpayers for Common Sense, and the Center for American Progress have all released reports that outline opportunities for controlling Pentagon spending. Despite the political differences among the authors, there is a surprising amount of overlap in the defense spending portions of their deficit reduction plans. As the Pentagon and Congress begin to implement the $350 billion in cuts in the debt deal, this memo will highlight bipartisan recommendations from the four plans, shown in the following chart and described below:

  • Efficiencies: $178 billion through 2016
  • Health care: $15 billion per year
  • Troops in Europe and Asia: $42.5 billion through 2016
  • Size of U.S. ground forces: $39.16 billion through 2016
  • Procurement: $53.36 billion
  • Nuclear weapons: $33.72 billion

After an unprecedented streak of 13 consecutive years of rising defense budgets, the United States is now spending more on defense than at any time since World War II and almost as much as the rest of the world combined. As the administration, Congress, and the Pentagon work to make good on the debt ceiling deal, they should focus on responsibly reducing wasteful military spending in a way that bolsters our economy without endangering our national security.

To read the full column, click here.

To watch the Ask the Expert video “Getting Defense Spending Under Control,” click here.

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To speak to Lawrence Korb, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or [email protected].