It is already too late to reverse sequestration—the devastating hit of more than $500 billion in cuts that could afflict the Defense Department starting in January—before it has some impact on budgeting decisions being made by the government and its contractors. But it is not too late to engineer a deal that can stop the worst before it hits.
Accordingly, senators have been talking about what kind of deal they could come up with. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Politico: “I predict there will not be a sequester. One way or the other, since 90 percent of us don’t want it, it won’t happen. And my hope is that it won’t happen early enough to avoid any instability. What I am confident in is that it’s not going to happen because nobody around here wants it to happen except for some tea party folks.”
But the price of stopping sequestration could be substantial. Levin, for one, is demanding an extra $100 billion in defense cuts. That’s certainly better than the $500 billion hit that defense could take if sequestration occurs, but remember: Defense already suffered $486 billion in cuts last summer. The Air Force and Navy are already at their lowest levels, in terms of number of ships and number of aircraft, in many decades. The army and Marine Corps are already in the process of cutting 100,000 positions for soldiers and marines. All this is going on while the Middle East appears to be on the verge of exploding and while China is testing worrisome new weapons systems, such as yet another stealth-fighter prototype.
We need to be building up our defense—not debating how much more to cut. Yet the likelihood is that Congress will inflict yet more painful cuts on our military as the price of avoiding even more excruciating cuts. Only in Washington is this heralded as wisdom.