Where Does the Military Stand on the Fiscal Cliff?

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As much as President Obama and Congress have talked about dealing with the “fiscal cliff,” there is one term noticeably missing from the discussion: Sequestration and its effect on the military.

While the president and members of Congress are maneuvering for ways to knock $1.2 trillion off the federal deficit by the end of the year, they seem to be purposefully avoiding talking about its impact on Defense spending.

That hardly seems possible – not when Defense spending could suffer $500 billion in cuts over the next 10 years if an agreement is not reached – but when House leaders emerged from a closed-door meeting about the subject last Wednesday, they didn’t mention the military side of the “fiscal cliff” at all.

Neither did Obama, who spent part of that day meeting with business leaders from some of the country’s largest corporations, none of them representing Defense contractors, then met with a group of “middle class Americans” to talk about solutions for the looming crisis.

Entitlements and Tax Cuts

Instead, Republican leaders came out of their talks still demanding cuts in entitlement programs, while Democrats kept up calls for extending tax cuts to the middle class and raising rates for those making more than $250,000 a year.

“We have clear agreement among Democrats and Republicans that we have near unanimous support on making sure the middle class is not impacted by the Dec. 31 deadline,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus.

Replied Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican: “We have not seen any good faith effort to talk about the real problem we’re trying to fix.”

Meanwhile, officers and government contractors can only speculate on what that means for Defense spending, which eats up 20 percent of the federal budget,  or about $696 billion in 2012. The fact that little has been said about specific areas that might be trimmed leaves open the possibility of a 10 percent across-the-board cut.

Military Leaders Await Word

That idea makes leaders from all branches of the service cringe. They already have agreed to a proposal by Obama to reduce spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years, something that would happen with or without an agreement on the deficit reduction plan.

And earlier this year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta insisted that military leaders come up with reductions that would not affect training and maintenance or lower troop readiness to fight.

A report released early last week, however, said that because the military has been fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for more than 10 years, troops obviously are ready to fight. Teams of Defense experts brought together to discuss options suggested the military spend money to develop weapons and equipment needed for future battles.

“These teams reasoned that, ‘well, we’re coming out of a decade of war and frankly our force is very ready,” said Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment fellow Mark Gunzinger, a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense and retired Air Force colonel who helped lead the exercise.

Any attempts to modernize the military will depend on whether sequestration becomes necessary.



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