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JINSA Report #1111: The Debt Deal and Defense

[Editor’s note: The discussion of the Defense budget is critical for U.S. interests as well as Israeli interests, given the U.S. is Israel’s chief supplier of arms and technology.]

Raising the debt limit would not ordinarily be fodder for JINSA Reports but the deal will necessarily impact upon American defense policy and our ability to plan for the defense of ourselves, our interests and our allies, so a quick review is in order.
The Numbers.Total defense-related spending in the FY2012 Budget is $832.1 billion, broken out roundly as follows:

$558b – The Base Defense Budget.  This consists of:

$553b – Discretionary spending. This is what is generally thought of as the “Defense Budget.” It includes procurement; personnel; operations and maintenance; research, development, testing and evaluation; military construction and military housing.

$5b – Mandatory spending; primarily deposits to the Military Retirement System.

$118b – Overseas Contingency Operations funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Libya is not included here, but it’s only about $1b annually, so it’s hardly worth mentioning.

$19b – Nuclear-related activity primarily in Dept. of Energy
$8b – Defense- related activities in other agencies including Dept. of Homeland Security and the Dept. of Justice

$129b – Veteran-related spending primarily in the Department of Veterans Affairs

The Deal.A “fact sheet” released by the White House notes, “The deal puts us on track to cut $350 billion from the defense budget over 10 years.” It does not note nearly $400 billion in cuts already made in FY2009 and FY2010. The White House document shows defense spending in direct opposition to domestic spending. “If the Committee [to negotiate future spending cuts] fails, enforcement mechanism will trigger spending reductions beginning in 2013 – split 50/50 between domestic and defense spending.” However, “Enforcement protects Social Security, Medicare beneficiaries, and low-income programs from any cuts.” If money is sequestered in 2013 for failure of the Committee to reach an agreement, “the deal would automatically add nearly $500 billion in defense cuts on top of cuts already made, and, at the same time, it would cut critical programs like infrastructure or education.”
The Implications: The oppositional nature of defense and domestic spending is now enshrined in the plan, along with the assumption that Democrats favor defense spending cuts and Republicans favor domestic cuts. John Bolton, a Republican advocate of a strong defense, wrote, “Why should Democrats agree to their favored domestic spending bearing more than 50 percent of the cuts when they know the sequestration mechanism will give them a better deal?”
We think – in fact we know – that there are Democrats who worry along with their Republican colleagues about the requirements of a strong United States, able to meet its commitments abroad as well as contingencies that may arise. Writing them off in advance is a mistake of possibly historic proportions given the current stakes.
Our country is involved in active hostilities in Iraq, Afghanistan (and Pakistan); managing a large part of the NATO mission in Libya; operating drone wars in Somalia and Yemen; watching a number of allies and adversaries in the Middle East struggle with the morphing of the Arab Spring into a long hot summer; and troops managing various missions in 150 countries around the world. Considering the future of Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela doesn’t make it look easier.
How the defense budget is structured and managed through the debt reduction process will require strong nerves and a return of the prior determination of Republicans and Democrats to work together for the Constitutional requirement “to provide for the common defense.”

JINSA is the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

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