Pentagon Reportedly Planning for “Doomsday” Spending Scenario

Is the White House assuming massive defense cuts next year-much bigger than the cuts already made? Even bigger than the additional reductions contained in the recently passed debt-ceiling legislation?

It sure seems so.

Rumor has it that the Administration’s accounting arm, the Office of Management and Budget, has issued fresh budgeting guidance to the Pentagon. That advice: assume a worst case scenario for defense budgets in 2013, and cut the topline by up to$100 billion.

Contingency planning is important, but in this instance, the Joint Chiefs must push back while clearly and loudly articulating the real-world costs, consequences, and risks. If true, the OMB directive would take military spending off a cliff with no guidance or strategic rationale. It gives Congress zero say until after the decision has already shoehorned defense spending into a faux “doomsday” budget scenario.

That scenario, born of the debt-ceiling legislation, assumes Congress is unable to make intelligent budget decisions and therefore allows an automatic “trigger” to blindly impose massive across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending. Secretary Panetta described cuts under this automatic trigger as having “devastating effects” on national security, and he’s right.

A defense “build down” has been underway for two years now. Even before the debt-ceiling deal, these cuts were trimming more than fat. They were-and are-biting into military bone and muscle. Additional cuts of this magnitude, made so rapidly, can inflict long-term damage on military readiness and chip away at core capabilities. The level of harm would be difficult to un-do.

At this point, the military must focus on minimizing the damage. There are smarter ways and many wrong ways to go about cutting defense budgets. Precipitous salami slicing is clearly one wrong way. Another favorite to slash funding for platforms-even though eliminating equipment that forces actually need doesn’t even save money in the near-term-is also wrong.

Military budget priorities must support a greater strategic plan and foreign policy. Defense cuts must be offered up to politicians only after the Joint Chiefs have clearly identified the growing risks and consequences to U.S. foreign policy and the all-volunteer force as a result. Unfortunately, odds are that massive cuts made under duress will result in much greater vulnerability and, in all likelihood, higher casualties and other costs in future conflicts.

It would be unseemly for the White House to advise the Pentagon to assume the “Super Committee” fails to develop a deficit reduction plan or that Congress will also drop the budgetary ball. After all, the Legislative branch still has a say on these matters.

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