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Triggering Defense Cuts

Defense spending may be marginally safer now that Sen. Harry Reid’s debt-ceiling plan – which included up to $860 billion in defense cuts – has been taken off the table. But the new proposal being kicked around by Republicans and Democrats reportedly contains a measure that could jeopardize our national security at a later date. By including a “trigger” mechanism that will kick off across-the-board spending cuts if (when?) both parties are unable to agree on reductions, Congress is opening defense up to some serious budget-slashing. Here’s John Bolton’s take:

Every indication is that the debt ceiling negotiations are leaving the defense budget in grave jeopardy. By exposing critical defense programs to disproportionate cuts as part of the “trigger mechanism,” there is a clear risk that key defense programs will be hollowed out.

While the trigger mechanism comes into play only if the congressional negotiators fail to reach agreement on the second phase of spending cuts, it verges on catastrophe to take such a national security risk.

Our military has already been asked to make some painful sacrifices in the name of deficit reduction. Obama’s initial FY11 projections called for $6.7 trillion in defense spending during the next 10 years. That’s been reduced to $6.2 trillion (the FY12 appropriations projection), as the military has been fighting three wars and struggled to modernize and replenish equipment.

We don’t yet know the details of the across-the-board cuts that would be triggered if Republicans and Democrats are unable to agree on reductions, but we do know Obama’s recent request for the military to cut $400 billion during the next 12 years was daunting enough for national security officials. Republicans and pro-defense Democrats will need to hold tough on this issue — when bipartisan groups like the Gang of Six have called for $890 billion in defense cuts, there’s a chance military spending could be on the chopping block regardless of whether the trigger comes into play.


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