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Two Problem Areas for Defense in Debt Ceiling Deal

Defense hawks have two areas of concern in the debt ceiling deal. The first is the initial $917 billion savings, which includes $350 billion in cuts during the next 10 years to a wide swath of “security” agencies, ranging from the Department of Defense to the Department of Homeland Security.

On the plus side, this means these reductions won’t necessarily be confined to the Pentagon, and agencies conservatives loathe – like the TSA – could see their budgets slashed as well. On the other hand, the broadness of the category means the departments covered under the “security category” may have to duke it out every year over how much money each of them gets:

“Appropriators will determine each year how money is allocated under the cap,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in reference to a $684 billion limit for spending by all security agencies, including the Department of Defense, the compromise bill would put in place.

A House Appropriations source confirmed “there is no specific DOD-only number in the bill for any year, and not for the 10-year span.”

The initial cuts are a problem, but they aren’t as much of a worry as the potential “revised security category” reductions – solely targeting the national defense budget – which would be triggered into effect if lawmakers are unable to agree on $1.5 trillion in additional savings by December.

If a “super committee” of Republicans and Democrats can’t come to a resolution, then $1.2 trillion will automatically be cut across the board. Half of that – $600 billion – will come from national defense. That’s in addition to the original $350 billion.

National security officials have already warned reductions of this size would endanger the country. Which is why the most crucial part of this deal will be who gets appointed to the bipartisan “super committee.” It’s important to members to stand their ground on entitlement reform and tax breaks, but at some point, they’ll actually have to compromise and reach a deal – or force a trigger that would have a devastating impact on our national security.