Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Brownian Motion and the Defense Budget

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/.

 

 


More articles by:

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.

October 17, 2018
David N. Smith
George Orwell’s Message in a Bottle
Patrick Cockburn
When Saudi Arabia’s Credibility is Damaged, So is America’s
John Steppling
Before the Law
Frank Stricker
Wages Rising? 
James McEnteer
Larry Summers Trips Out
Muhammad Othman
What You Can Do About the Saudi Atrocities in Yemen
Binoy Kampmark
Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson
Karen J. Greenberg
Justice Derailed: From Gitmo to Kavanaugh
John Feffer
Why is the Radical Right Still Winning?
Dan Corjescu
Green Tsunami in Bavaria?
Rohullah Naderi
Why Afghan Girls Are Out of School?
George Ochenski
You Have to Give Respect to Get Any, Mr. Trump
Cesar Chelala
Is China Winning the War for Africa?
Mel Gurtov
Getting Away with Murder
W. T. Whitney
Colombian Lawyer Diego Martinez Needs Solidarity Now
Dean Baker
Nothing to Brag About: Scott Walker’s Economic Record in Wisconsin:
October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail