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The “Fiscal Cliff” Deal and Defense

The Senate’s early-morning budget deal kicks the can down the road–not very far down the road–for about two months. For those of us who focus on defense policy, the good news is that the Senate at least agreed to address the looming sequester, something that looked unlikely as recently as a few days ago.

According to this report in the Washington Post, “The last last piece of the puzzle to fall into place was the sequester, which would be delayed until early March under an agreement to raise $12 billion in new tax revenue and $12 billion in fresh savings from the Pentagon and domestic programs.” Presumably that means that the cost of turning off the sequester for two months is about $6 billion in extra defense cuts. That’s much better than $50 billion in cuts, which would have hit if sequestration had occurred, but given how much the Defense Department has been cut already (remember that the budget deal of 2011 slashes some $500 billion over 10 years), while entitlement spending (the main driver of our debt) has not been cut at all, there is scant justification for cuts of any size. At least on the merits.

As a matter of political necessity, there is little doubt that, whatever comes, the armed services will suffer more pain–seeing their resources cut while their missions continue to multiply. The only question is how much pain? Assuming the kick-the-can compromise passes the House, that question will be answered in March. Or not. There is actually little reason to think that lawmakers will suddenly be able to bridge their differences in two months. So yet another temporary, 11th-hour fix may be ginned up. Is this any way, I wonder (in common with most Americans), to run a superpower?


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