FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Brownian Motion and the Defense Budget

by WINSLOW T. WHEELER

The defense budget politicians are going ga-ga over a monster they helped to create: the “sequester” of $492 billion out of the defense budget over the next nine years—the broadly undesired effect of the Budget Control Act and the failed Super Committee of 2011.  The most palpably political Secretary of Defense in decades, Leon Panetta, says it’s “doomsday” but has instructed his staff to do nothing about it—at least visibly.  The capital’s self-anointed Pentagon money huckster, Congressman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, provides new hyperbole every few days, and senators from both parties busy themselves, as recently as last week, demanding reports whose only real effect will be to help them write more speeches.

All this “Brownian Motion”[i] is the embodiment of the dysfunction in Washington.  It’s not that they can’t do anything about something they all profess to be horrible; it’s that they don’t want to.

That the Department of Defense (DOD) must be defended from sequester is one of the few unifying beliefs in Washington, even if it is quite poorly informed. Maneuvering for the elections is more important to the actors in an elections spectacle.  The Republicans want to label Democrats as “anti-defense,” idly standing by as the defense budget is cut, and the Democrats paint the Republicans as wantonly obstructionist. Both sides think they’ll leverage more votes in November and are avidly sticking to their game plan.

Their opposing motivations resulted in typically dysfunctional legislation last week: an amendment to tell them something they already think they know—a report from the executive branch that says sequester means too many cuts too deep, administered in a mindless, automatic fashion.[ii]  The only real purpose to be served is providing fodder for newly elevated bombast. Yet, the authors of the amendment preen themselves play-acting they secured a meaningful step forward.[iii]

But, they may not even want that report from the executive brand.  It would mean an end to the endless games Washington has been playing with the numbers sequester can mean.

For example, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has repeatedly testified the sequester would cause the national defense budget function to lose $492 billion over nine years,[iv] but as late as last week[v] politicians, and even journalists,[vi] were saying the cuts would be $600 billion.

The games hardly end there.  CBO has further explained that sequester would impose a $55 billion reduction in the 2013 defense budget;[vii] others say it would be $60 billion;[viii] still others say more.  It depends on what “baseline” you work from: CBO’s; the larger amount of the Obama defense budget request for 2013, or still higher projections for 2013—such as what House Republicans are seeking.  Carefully selected baselines are useful things.

Think tanks, budget analysts and reporters are having a field day with the numbers expressed as percentages.  Two different think tanks separately reported 15 percent[ix] or 7.5 percent[x] reductions in the defense budget in 2013 from sequester.   CBO estimates it at 10 percent;[xi] CRS says 11.5 percent.[xii]  Bloomberg at BDOV Insight says 13%.[xiii]  They all—well most—make a plausible argument; some seek to justify words like “indefensible,” “catastrophic,” or—of course—“doomsday.”

One of the more intriguing things about sequester is a rumored subterranean debate about whether or not the sequester cuts must occur as a mindlessly automatic, across the board cutting operation in every separate “program, project and activity” in the defense budget, as most believe and expect.[xiv]  There have been hints,[xv] off-hand remarks, [xvi] and rumors[xvii] that the White House’s agent, the Office of Management and Budget, has something different in store.[xviii]  OMB might even attempt to make it rational.

But that would imply additional cuts in the defense budget are both feasible and appropriate.  To propose that before the elections would be for the Democrats to jump into the Republicans’ “anti-defense” trap. That’s not going to happen.

As a result, the noise will continue.

Winslow T. Wheeler is director of the Straus Military Reform Project and editor of  The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It.

Notes. 

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownian_motion.

[ii] http://news.firedoglake.com/2012/06/22/murray-amendment-to-request-study-on-trigger-cuts-passes-in-farm-bill/.

[iii]http://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressOffice.PressReleases&ContentRecord_id=1018ce65-b8aa-39b5-3434-c904f1a45c0d.

[iv] pp 13 of http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/01-31-2012_Outlook.pdf

[v] http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/06/mckeon-sequestration/.

[vi] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/may/20/how-to-cut-600b-not-on-the-radar-at-pentagon/.

[vii] p. 12 of http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/01-31-2012_Outlook.pdf.

[viii] http://www.industryweek.com/articles/viewpoint_five_things_you_probably_didnt_know_about_sequestration_of_the_defense_budget_27606.aspx.

[ix] p. 5 of http://bipartisanpolicy.org/sites/default/files/6-7-12%20FINAL%20Sequester%20White%20Paper.pdf

[x] p. 4 of http://www.cbpp.org/files/12-2-11bud2.pdf.

[xi] p. 12 of http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/01-31-2012_Outlook.pdf.

[xii] p. 7 of http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42506.pdf.

[xiii] http://newprioritiesnetwork.org/pentagon-may-sequester-13-of-432-billion/.

[xiv] p. 5 of http://bipartisanpolicy.org/sites/default/files/6-7-12%20FINAL%20Sequester%20White%20Paper.pdf

[xv] http://thewillandthewallet.squarespace.com/blog/2012/3/13/sequester-rules-or-does-it.html.

[xvi] DOD Comptroller Robert Hale’s comments at http://thewillandthewallet.squarespace.com/blog/2012/3/9/the-plan-is-no-plan.html.

[xvii] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/may/20/how-to-cut-600b-not-on-the-radar-at-pentagon/.

[xviii] http://www.defensedaily.com/sectors/congress/Admin-Would-Have-Flexibility-In-Applying-DoD-Sequestration-Cuts_16461.html or http://defensetracker.com/web/?p=1681.

[xix] http://dnipogo.org/labyrinth/.

 

 


Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight.  He spent 31 years working for the Government Accountability Office and both Republican and Democratic Senators on national security issues.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 07, 2016
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewable of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
Mark Weisbrot
Castro Was Right About US Policy in Latin America
David Swanson
New Rogue Anti-Russia Committee Created in “Intelligence” Act
George Ochenski
Forests of the Future: Local or National Control?
December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
Norman Pollack
Taiwan: A Pustule on International Politics
Kevin Martin
Nuclear Weapons Modernization: a New Nuclear Arms Race? Who Voted for it? Who Will Benefit from It?
David Mattson
3% is not Enough: Towards Restoring Grizzly Bears
Howard Lisnoff
The Person Who Deciphered the Order to Shoot at Kent State
Dave Archambault II
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Statement on Dakota Access Pipeline Decision
Nick Pemberton
Make America Late Again
Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail