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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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.
Inside the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill is a defense appropriations bill for 2014. While it blunts the impact of full sequestration by providing extra cash for the Pentagon, it essentially keeps military spending flat from the previous year.
Much more work needs to be done to lift the specter of sequestration once and for all – including Congress approving unpopular but long overdue bureaucratic reforms within the Pentagon bureaucracy.
The NDAA process offers one of the last models of forging bipartisan consensus. Moreover, it could serve as a beacon to guide the Congress if it ever decides to return to regular order and reestablish relevancy for both the appropriations and authorizations processes in 2015 and beyond.