At a House Armed Services Committee yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey warned against making further reductions to future defense spending, telling lawmakers that further cuts will “truly devastate our national defense.”
Under the current budget deal, Congress agreed to raise America’s debt ceiling—and cut spending by the same amount. But the hard part—the cutting—is left to a twelve member bipartisan panel known as the supercommittee. Unless Congress passes by January 12, 2012, a bill originating fro the supercommittee that reduces the 10-year federal deficit by over $1.2 trillion, a so-called “sequestration” mechanism will automatically slash defense spending by as much as $600 billion more. The Pentagon’s long-term budget already faces cuts totaling roughly $490 billion.
During a question and answer session with Committee Chairman “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), Secretary Panetta said that the first round of $490 billion in cuts would “take [the Defense Department] to the edge,” but added: “If suddenly on top of that we face additional cuts, or if the sequester goes into effect and it double the number of cuts, then it’ll truly devastate our national defense….”
In a later exchange with Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Secretary Panetta elaborated: “I mean, all bets are off… sequestration would demand such drastic across-the-board cuts that it’s pretty clear that the force structure would be reduced drastically… Additionally, there is no question that it would hollow out the force, because it would require these drastic, deep, across-the-board cuts that would affect training, equipment, and everything else. It would really be devastating in terms of our national defense.”
General Dempsey reiterated Panetta’s point: “The impact of the sequestration is not only in its magnitude. It's in what it does … we lose control. And as we lose control, we will become out of balance, and we will not have the military this nation needs.”
In the Wall Street Journal today, McKeon also warns of the economic impact of military budget cuts: “And on the economic front, if the super committee fails to reach an agreement, its automatic cuts would kill upwards of 800,000 active-duty, civilian and industrial American jobs. This would inflate our unemployment rate by a full percentage point, close shipyards and assembly lines, and damage the industrial base that our warfighters need to stay fully supplied and equipped.”