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Harmful Defense Cuts and Wishful Thinking

Leon Panetta is rightly warning lawmakers if they continue to eviscerate defense spending there will be considerable cost not only to the nation’s defense
but to our economy as well. The defense secretary estimates trimming $1 trillion from the defense budget during the next decade–as could occur this fall–would add one percent to the unemployment rate. Given that unemployment is now at 9.1 percent, that’s a further hit that our economy simply can’t afford. That is in addition to what Panetta describes as the “devastating” consequences for the Department of Defense and U.S. power around the world if these cuts are implemented.

Against Panetta’s economic and strategic arguments–and they are coming, remember, from a noted fiscal hawk–what does the anti-defense side have to offer?  An unholy alliance of the National Taxpayers Union, a conservative group, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a left-wing group, have  issued recommendations for cutting more than $400 billion during the next decade. They are a combination of harmful cuts and wishful thinking.

Under the category of wishful thinking, count their first recommendation: “The  Congressional Defense Acquisition Reform Panel developed comprehensive
recommendations for improved contract development, performance  incentives, and reforms to the Pentagon’s financial management system. Taken together, they could yield $135 billion in savings in the next ten years.” Would such substantial savings really result from the tweaks recommended by the Defense Acquisition Reform Panel? Count me as skeptical. The panel recommended such tiny steps as expanding the role of the Office of Performance Assessment and Root Cause Analysis (whatever that is), having Program Executive Office personnel “negotiate specific measurable goals with their senior acquisition executive,” and naming “the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to improve performance in the acquisition system across all requirements  that affect the acquisition system.” Only in Washington could someone believe all of this will allow us to magically purchase more for less.

The NTU and USPIRG seem to recognize this because they also include real cuts in their recommendations–e.g., eliminating the entire F-35 program. Keep in mind we have already stopped buying F-22s. F-15s and F-16s are on average a quarter century old and falling apart. Newer fighters–including China’s J-20 stealth fighter–are being developed around the world. If the U.S. has no fifth-generation fighter of its own, we will be conceding air supremacy for the first time since the early, dark days of World War II. That is an unacceptable risk.

Keep in mind, moreover, even if all the NTU/USPIRG recommendations are implemented, they would still account for less than half of the potential cuts that may be coming to the defense budget. In their own way, then, these groups are inadvertently making the case against the  massive cuts Congress is now contemplating.

 



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