The initial deal to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade in exchange for raising the debt ceiling contained what is called a trigger mechanism: if the debt committee couldn’t pass a budget cutting proposal, automatic across the board cuts would be activated – including defense.
But now members of Congress are working to overturn that key element of the deal. The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, the 12 Republicans and Democrats appointed to the task otherwise known as the “super committee,” needs to have a plan by November 23, but is said to be short of the $1.5-trillion goal. And public statements and intense lobbying from defense corporations indicate the trigger mechanism will be scuttled by Congress.
Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said he would walk away from his position on the super committee if any defense cuts were at all a part of its final proposal. Senator John McCain, who is not on the committee, has said he would try to eliminate the mandatory defense cuts before the deadline. And Rep. Howard P. McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, spread fear that steep mandatory cuts would require the military to institute the draft.
Senator Lindsey Graham, too, wants defense cuts off the table. “It would be the dumbest thing,” he said. “I am disappointed in my Republican Party for allowing that to be part of the puzzle.”
This kind of talk in Congress has been lent additional legitimacy and leverage from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has been railing against serious cuts to his budget for months, recently comparing the notion to suicide.
The military-industrial complex has been lobbying simultaneously to convince people that budget cuts would be harmful. Recent reports and analyses from major defense firms attempt to frighten Congress with dire warnings about job losses in states where they manufacture weapons and warplanes. But these ignore the jobs that could be created if people’s taxes weren’t redistributed upward to corporations who produce things that destroy.
But the effort may work. In fact, all 12 of the super-committee members represent states where the biggest military contractors build missiles, jet fighters, and tanks while employing tens of thousands of workers. In a down economy where unemployment is issue number one, being perceived as “cutting jobs” is political suicide.
Resistance to cutting the defense budget is perverse after a decade of excessive increases in military spending. The minuscule defense cuts being contemplated could easily target areas of waste. As a recent report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments found, the source of growth in annual defense budgets since 2001 has been mostly (54%) due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but much of the rest has been spent on wasteful superfluous weapons technology, bloated salaries and benefits plans, and expensive peacetime operating costs for the 900-plus military bases in 130-plus countries around the world.
The United States could cut defense spending by half and still outspend every other country in the world. And the automatic cuts would not really be deep cuts into military budgets, but would rather impose less of a growth rate over time. But Washington and the defense corporations are too closely intertwined to accept reasonable cuts for an indebted government.