The sequester—Washington’s mindless across the board budget cuts—is here. Pentagon leaders have until now taken the easy way out by targeting two pots of money for the biggest hits: modernization and readiness. Modernization is the military’s investment in the future, while readiness pays for a healthy force today. While the automatic cuts are not saving substantial sums of money, if they are going to hit defense spending, they need to hit the right targets. Will President Obama allow that and will the Pentagon meet the challenge?
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The growing gap between what the nation demands of the military and what its capacity, capability and readiness will allow, thanks to reduced budgets, will eventually lead to unacceptable outcomes and consequences.
This is the most confusing defense budget submission in recent times. It will not help Pentagon leaders achieve the goal they seek, which is for Congress and the White House to pass a new law softening the effects of sequestration for the remainder of the decade.
Washington’s great paradox is that many politicians see little problem cutting the defense topline but oppose all the individual defense cuts once those macro decisions become micro consequences.
By trying to get out in front of Congress, control the narrative and provide extra time that will surely be needed for greater education of members, Hagel is seeking a better partnership with the Hill than in previous years when it comes to accepting controversial decisions.
Since the defense budget peaked in 2010, Congress has been quick to approve proposed cuts to the military’s topline. But Congress has been just as swift to oppose specific proposals made once those vague budget cuts trickle down to become real-world, tangible consequences.