The year that never was

The year that never was

Everyone involved likes to say Congress has “time” to save the Pentagon from the guillotine, but after another gloomy week of hearings, it’s clear that everyone actually believes something very different: The fix is in.

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Washington Rep. Adam Smith, was asked Thursday whether he thought there were only two options when Congress tries to resolve sequestration in December: Get behind a short-term plan like the one proposed by HASC Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon or do nothing and let the blade fall.

‘Well there’s a third option,” Smith said. “All of the Bush tax cuts expire in December. What I would do at that point is take $1.2 trillion of them, say, ‘This isn’t gonna happen’ and at that point stop sequestration. This is not an ideal outcome. Waiting until December to resolve this I don’t think is a good idea. But the problem with proceeding is that I” — and most other Democrats — “think revenue has to be part of the equation and Republicas insist revenue cannot be part of the equation, and that is at the moment a deal-stopper.”

And it will continue to be right up until the wire, Smith suggested, even as he argued Congress should not wait until the last minute to do its job. But he was not optimistic about what could happen next:

“We get to December, you’ve got those expiring tax cuts, and typically Congres would do what it always does: At the last minute, extend everything and pretend at some point in the future we’ll deal with the deficit. I don’t vote for those things, so when I say ‘Congress,’ I am talking broadly, and not about something I would support. But in this case, the vote to extend the Bush tax cuts in their entirety would in essence be the vote to lock in sequestration. And that’ll be an interesting little conversation, won’t it.”


Smith could be wrong — he is in the minority in the House and it’ll be majority Republicans who drive what happens in the coming months. They could offer a new proposal, or play ball with Democrats, or something could happen to make both parties rally around $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years, which is the antidote to the slow-acting sequestration poison.

In the end-of-the-year scenario, Smith was asked, would it be cricket to count the new “revenue” from expired tax cuts toward the $1.2 trillion goal? Oh yes, he said, and told a wonky anecdote about how Congress had given itself a sly out in last year’s much-maligned budget control act.

“I love this stat,” he said with a grin. “This amuses me; it doesn’t amuse a lot of other people – early on in the super committee thing, we said, OK, well, y’gotta come up with $1.2 trillion in savings. I was like, ‘From what? What’s the baseline?’ There is no baseline. I love that. There is no baseline! The BCA says you have to find 1.2 to 1.5 over 10 years from nothing.  You can make it up. Literally, to a certain degree, if we wanted to pass something [we could say] we’re spending less money on the [Overseas Contingency Operations accounts] —  so look at the next ten years, say, ‘OCO must go down,’ we can say ‘Good, let’s go home.’”

This kind of numbers conjuring is how the defense budget can both grow slightly and reflect a $487 billion reduction over the next 10 years — because the Pentagon is cutting against what it was planning to spend, not actual numbers from the past. It’s why all the charts in all the slide decks have multiple lines in different colors going out into the future, to account for the different scenarios.

Defense advocates have tried to exploit this fuzziness as much as possible, and the numbers talked about for DoD’s “reductions” have ballooned from $300 billion to $400 billion to $450 billion to $487 billion. Some defense officials were throwing out $489 billion in last month’s budget rollout. These scary numbers have given Republicans an opening to continue their attacks on President Obama for letting the budget drive his “strategy,” rather than the other way around. These talking points, developed within the Armed Services world, are spreading out into the general population: House Budget Committee Republicans tried them out this week in their hearings with Secretary Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

(Smith, for his part, mocked this narrative: “I hear this and I want to say, ‘What color is the sky in your world?’” he said. “Every discussion that I’ve ever been a part of, the budget is always a factor.”)

Republicans also have leaned more heavily on the Why Aren’t You Planning For Sequestration gambit. How do I go back to [insert my home state] and tell the good people of [home state] that their Defense Department isn’t at least preparing for this … this … catastrophe?

“There isn’t a hell of a lot of planning I can do!” Panetta told South Carolina Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney. The whole point here is that everything gets cut equally across the board, Panetta said — no planning needed.

That’s not the whole picture, though: Congress could use the oodles of time its members are always talking about to authorize the Pentagon to reprogram money across its various accounts in case of sequestration. But that would be a concession that sequestration was manageable, that DoD could withstand the additional $500 billion in reduced budget growth, and everyone involved would look foolish for the months spent predicting armageddon.

So we’re back where we started — nothing on the horizon between now and the end of the year looks like it could save defense. As we’ve observed, the military-industrial-congressional complex has become like the Bottle City of Kandor, or Lisa Simpson’s genesis tub, a microcosm of multitudes entirely dependent on the larger forces without.

Defense advocates in both houses, in both parties, agree with the Pentagon and the defense industry that sequestration must be stopped. But if Smith is right and this depends on December’s vote on the Bush tax cuts, it could turn everything on its head. Would defense hawk Republicans permit the tax cuts to expire if it meant finally pulling the Pentagon off Big Ben’s gears? Or would national politics force an extension and doom the Defense Department?

There’s no way to know, and so much could happen between now and then and it’s no use attempting predictions. The only thing that seems certain is that lawmakers may have effectively given up trying anything on their own for the next nine months.

Join the Conversation

Adam Smith strategy is in the moment the only how can work why he simple needs what the Congress do what he did since 2010 and this is nothing. The Big Question is them Adam Smiths will be enable to tell the right story to save the USA as a World Power and this will be not so easy. Why many democratic radicals will push for even more Defence Cuts and not accept the replace of the Sequestration with the revenues how will come them the Bush tax cuts expired.

The other and better Possibility is waht the GOP can take the Senat and hold the Congress but the chances for what are fall dramatic as Sen. Snowe declares what he will not run again for reelection.

Senator Olympia Snowe is a woman.

Araya, we understand that you are sending your posts from a foreign nation using a translation program. The problem is that your translation program causes your argument to become difficult to understand and we are not always able to give you the response that your well thought out positions deserve.

Please keep posting though. We need as many opinions as possible to keep this site vibrant.

“This kind of numbers conjuring is how the defense budget can both grow slightly and reflect a $487 billion reduction over the next 10 years — because the Pentagon is cutting against what it was planning to spend, not actual numbers from the past.”

This is what I’ve been arguing ever since the budget control act was enacted. It’s smoke and mirrors to say they’re savings money when in fact the DoD budget (and federal budget overall) will continue to rise over the next few years (it just won’t rise as much as they want). Not spending money isn’t the same as saving it.

Budget gimmick-gamesmanship was employed? SHOCKA! (not) I notice the only people who pretended to be duped were those who really, REALLY, wanted the defense budget slashed, and they keep prodding their friends in the media to rouse the public into a call for action before the impending doom of sequestration happens. While the same media seemed mystified as to why Congress, defense planners, and defense contractors weren’t scrambling to cover the bases. Personally, I think sequestration could still happen– only because I believe there is no bottom to the depths that those behind the idea will descend.

Only in Washington-speak is spending less than you planned, but still spending more than you are now and more than you can afford a “savings.”

The Democrats want to cut the defense budget and the republicans want to cut the federal work force and waste. Both parties agree that the Pentagon budget needs to be cut. Why are they playing games??? They need to sit down and agree to cut things they have in common. By attritution they can cut redundant organizations, high grade redundant staff positions, layers of management in doing so they can cut the federal workforce by ten percent. Along with that they can scrub the worthless and wasteful non vlaue paperwork that the pentagon dopes that supports the jobs that cna be cut. Excess hollow bases, warehouses, defense offices not on warrior bases can be BRACed also. Where are the SES and thinkers that we pay so much for? I ahve my resume ready for a job to pull this all together, who will hire me to do it???????

You’re asking Congress do make decisions that might make the other side look better in the elections. Why do you think both sides staffed the super committee with guys as far left and far right as they could? I’m sure there are members of Congress willing to do what you propose, but not at the expense of the other side getting any credit.

How is the military supposed to plan to take a knife to the gut? Thank you Congress.

I knew this was going to happen last year there is no way republicans will let the Bush tax Cuts expire it would be political suicide from the base. And there no way Dems will allow the government to defense spend the nation into oblivion like the Soviet Union did 20 years ago. Hate to say this but sequestration is needed to to teach the DoD to be more careful with its money and kill waste like GCV and ICC which we don’t need. Overall more cuts will come either sequestration or as part of a deal to stop it a smaller but still large cut would be part of a deal. The DoD must stick with what it has and put there spending wish list on hold something general cant stand a halt on there wasteful pet projects. Time for the Pentagon to grow up financially.

This is all part of Bobo’s plans to hurt us in the Armed Forces. No surprises here. Nov 2012 is coming.

Ain’t that the truth!

The current $487 billion basically flatlines the Defense budget. It would take sequestration to take it down a notch (about 9%), which still puts it well over the Evil Empire Soviet Union force levels. What savings?

Congress should just take an up or down vote on the President’s Deficit Commission recommendations across the board. There was a majority of both tax-and-spend Democrats and borrow-and-spend Republicans on the commission who voted for it (11 of 18). That was even to get by the Senate’s 60% supermajority, but not enough for the artificially high supermajority set for the commission (14 of 18, or 78%). It’s a great substitution for sequestration because it contained specific cuts and changes.

Actually more likely than not, all the Bush tax cuts will expire. The reason: the GOP wants all of the tax cuts to continue and the Dems want tax increases on the upper 2%. There will not be an agreement and one side will blame the other for the end of the BUSH tax cuts. The net benefit: sequestration avoided if you believe Congressman Smith’s statements. The sad truth: we are still only 18 months behind Greece of becoming insolvent and being unable to pay back our debt and finance our deficits. There may not be any takers for our treasure bonds and we may have to cut the entire budget by 1.5 trillion/yr which actually would decimate medicare, medicaid, social security and defense.

Nonsense. By allowing the upper 2% to continue to not pay their fair share (and I’ll predicate that by saying, that includes probably none of you reading this), the government is not getting the revenue they once had prior to the Bush tax cuts.

What do you expect when you start two wars , cut revenues, then leave office for the next president to clean up the mess?

Have you ever taken an english course?

why are we worried about social security.…it is the one program that was paid for by itself.…If congress would leave those funds alone…

The top 10% of earners are where over 80% of tax revenue comes from. How is that not “Their fair share”? I’m sick and tired of hearing the same old Socialist BS about “fair share”. How about the senate (“lead” by Reid) doing their constitutionally mandasted job and passing a budget? It’s been years since they have done so. You need to get your head out of your political minded third point of contact and look at the REAL causes of the situation the nation is in.

The fact of the matter is nothing will get done before November 6th. Then things MAY start happening after the new congress (and a new President hopefully) gets sworn in in January.

Use real figures when you talk about which PERCENT of the taxpayers pay “most” of the tax revenue. I bet there is a good reason you and other use a vague term, “most”. What PERCENT of money/income does 2 PERCENTage of taxpayers control/receive? And you changed the conversation from 2% to 10 for a reason I would imagine.

I m old enough to remember that the Reagan era trickle-down didn’t work, and you can go back and read the news archives to see plenty of references to the GW Bush era “jobless recovery”, the fact that the Bush tax cuts did not result in more jobs or a real increase in income for us regular people. The wealthy kept the money, the real estate bubble grew making it look like the economy was OK — until it suddenly wasn’t.

Embarrassment. 2 errors I’ll fix altho no one will read: 1. The word “most ” was not used by DoubleL, sorry. My point is, 10% paying 80% of tax rev. is much less impressive if, for instance, that 10% gets 90% of income (payroll and investment income) and holds 90% of wealth. Background facts needed for a discussion of what is fair. (And, as in Jesus’s comment in the temple, the wealthy pay out of their surplus, while the poor pay from money they need.) 2. Consumer borrowing including the real estate bubble (and the Wall Street hijinks that accelerated the damage) made it look like the economy was OK until the crash. The Marines went to war, while America went to the mall, remember that one?


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