8:49 AM, Aug 1, 2011 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Second, proponents of the deal argue that out-year defense cuts can be reversed by subsequent Congresses. Of course, the Democrats will argue precisely the same point in favoring their domestic programs, suggesting that the entire second-stage exercise is a sham. Perhaps that is the best we can hope for, but it will mean a debt-ceiling increase in the second-stage without certainty about offsetting spending cuts.
Third, deal advocates say that “the point of the ‘backstop’ is that it never, ever happens.” Unfortunately, every prospect is that the Joint Committee will allocate cuts 50 percent to defense, 50 percent to non-defense. Why should Democrats agree to their favored domestic spending bearing more than 50 percent of the cuts when they know the sequestration mechanism will give them a better deal? Conversely, why should Republicans agree to more than 50 percent of the cuts being taken in defense, when they know precisely the same thing on their side?
Thus, the logic of the negotiating dynamic will mean that both sides of the Joint Committee will not concede more than they would otherwise get under the sequestration formula. That, in turn, brings us back to $500 billion in defense cuts.
This deal may be the best we can get, and in many respects it is far better than we feared. But to have accomplished so much, and fended off so many harmful proposals, to stumble at the last hurdle is a great tragedy. Make no mistake, this deal, by risking massive defense cutbacks, potentially points a dagger at the heart of our national security.