While Democrats don’t often concern themselves with too much government spending, the one place you often see consternation is in defense spending. As a percentage of federal spending, defense has constituted around 20 percent of total spending, and is one of the largest (often the largest) single categorical source of spending.
Regardless, we conservatives typically apologize for bloated military spending, because we think that national defense is a more legitimate function of government than the provision of a social safety net. Nevertheless, the deficit-cutting “Supercommittee” was set up so that, if they cannot come to a compromise plan, spending gets cut across the board, including significant defense-spending cuts. And as the supercommittee barrels towards failure, Leon Panetta, President Obama’s Secretary of Defense, is worried about the cuts his department faces.
With Congress’ supercommittee stymied, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Thursday of a “paper tiger” Pentagon if the panel fails to agree on a deficit-reduction plan and automatic spending cuts take effect as a result beginning in 2013.
The supercommittee has until Nov. 23 to agree on a deficit-reduction package of at least $1.2 trillion over a decade. Any amount less than that would be made up in across-the-board cuts divided evenly between defense and domestic programs. If the committee failed entirely, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, the Pentagon would have about $450 billion less to spend over the next 10 years than current projections, leaving it with nearly $600 billion at its disposal in 2021.
Considering that the debt-ceiling agreement signed by President Obama put Sec. Panetta in this situation in the first place, one has to imagine that most Democrats aren’t actually troubled by the defense cuts facing DoD. And Republicans made the deal as well. The choices for the Supercommittee – made by leadership of both parties in Congress – were clearly made without nods to compromise. The failure of the Supercommittee to come up with a compromise plan is likely to lead to pretty deep defense cuts – something that both Leon Panetta and Republicans will have to deal with.