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Sequestration's Hidden Trillion Dollar Cut to Defense

5:16 PM, Sep 16, 2011 • By ROBERT ZARATE
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Unless Congress passes a law to reduce the long-term federal deficit by more than $1.2 trillion by January 2012, the debt limit deal, agreed upon last month, will result in two major cuts to the military budget.

The first cut will be a result of the so-called "sequestration," which will slash as much as $600 billion from defense spending over the next decade. The second cut, which has been less noticed, will come from the debt limit deal's so-called "trigger" provision that would place lower, multi-year ceilings—or "caps"—on discretionary spending for national defense. These caps alone would cut over $500 billion from what the Pentagon—excluding the annual costs of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq—is projected to spend in the next decade.

In the chart, the Congressional Budget Office's ten-year projection of defense spending is based on Obama's fiscal year 2012 budget proposal, and the trigger provision's spending caps and sequestration cuts on defense are displayed in three different scenarios.

Combine the $500 billion-plus cut (from the spending cap) with the maximum $600 billion reduction (from the sequestration cuts), and the debt limit deal slashes the Pentagon's projected ten-year budget, in all, by a whopping $1.1 trillion.

The Pentagon's civilian and military leaders, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Army general Martin Dempsey (Obama's personal pick to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff), have called deep defense cuts "devastating" and "very high risk." And retired Navy admiral Edmund Giambastiani, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, likened serious defense cuts to “performing brain surgery with a chainsaw.”

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