At zero hour, did DoD dodge a bullet?

A counter-narrative is building in Washington that, actually, the Pentagon may not have gotten that bad a deal under the debt ceiling compromise.

Washington defense advocates were not happy with the last-minute compromise that prevented default but locked in a decade of reduced spending for the Pentagon. House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon said Monday that he would go along with the deal “with deep reservations,” and warned that more spending reductions — like those that would be triggered by the Doomsday Device — could “break the force.”

A counter-narrative has been building inside the Beltway, however: That DoD’s $350 billion in reduced growth over the coming 10 years actually is a better deal than the $400 billion reduction that President Obama had originally proposed . As McClatchy’s Nancy Youssef wrote, that budget trajectory along with the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could add up to something easier for the Building to swallow:

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, experts said, the overall change in defense spending practices could be minimal: Instead of cuts, the Pentagon merely could face slower growth.

“This is a good deal for defense when you probe under the numbers,” said Lawrence Korb, a defense expert at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning research center. “It’s better than what the Defense Department was expecting.”

To be sure, the numbers could change. Under the current debt deal the department would have to reduce its budget by $600 billion over the next decade if Congress can’t agree on the deficit-reduction proposals of a new 12-member, bipartisan legislative committee that will be tasked with recommending further spending cuts.

But the proposed figures – after weeks of drawn-out, vitriolic debate between both political parties – raise questions about what, if anything, could lead to substantial defense reductions. Military spending has more or less survived the drawdown of two wars and a domestic economic crisis. Even now, Congress can’t agree on how much to cut defense spending while maintaining U.S. military strength.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said: “We are confident that we can make this (debt deal) happen without affecting readiness and without affecting any of our soldiers.”

Other reporters and bloggers have been saying the same thing.

But this shootin’ match isn’t over yet: Under the debt bargain, the “Super Congress” must find $1.2 trillion more in spending reductions by Christmas — does anyone think DoD won’t absorb part of that, even if it isn’t the full $500 billion that would be cut if Congress can’t act? Although no one wants the Doomsday Device to go off, there’ll be as much pressure for the rest of the year to reduce defense spending as there has been so far; look for a major lobbying push to make the second number as small as possible.