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

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail