The ink wasn't dry on the debt-ceiling law on Tuesday before President Obama began plotting his strategy to slash the military budget.
A White House statement proudly acknowledged the deal would gut $350 billion from the already stretched armed services, and Democrats expect the new congressional joint committee to make deeper cuts in the months ahead.
On Monday afternoon, House Speaker John A. Boehner held a hastily arranged meeting with members of the Armed Services Committee to secure its support for that evening's debt vote.
"It's clear they have some concerns about the defense numbers in this bill, but, as I told them, this is the best defense number we're going to get," Mr. Boehner told reporters after the meeting. "If we don't pass a bill, it's pretty clear to me what will happen is the defense number will go down."
The committee's chairman, Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, California Republican, said in a statement after the vote, "I will support this proposal with deep reservations. Our senior military commanders have been unanimous in their concerns that deeper cuts could break the force."
These reservations turned out to be the last hurdle in the negotiations between the White House, Mr. Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The deal only set the top-line spending levels for discretionary and security outlays for 2012 and 2013, leaving the details to the committees. Republicans insist the administration claim of military cuts is "just spin." They also say security cuts will be spread among other areas, including the budgets for State, intelligence and Homeland Security.
If the joint committee fails to agree on at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions, an automatic enforcement mechanism will hit the military hard. Though defense accounts for 20 percent of the discretionary budget, it will be subject to 50 percent of the cuts.
Sen. John Thune estimated it would account for cuts of $54 billion a year for nine years. "The biggest problem I had with this whole deal was the triggers because it does tilt heavily toward defense," the South Dakota Republican told The Washington Times. "But that means that those of us who care about national defense are going to have to double down our efforts to make sure that the committee produces a product so you don't end up in a sequester."
When asked about the trigger, Mr. McConnell dismissed those fears. "The joint committee is not going to gridlock, in my opinion," he said Tuesday. "I wouldn't focus a whole lot on what would happen if they didn't function because I think they are."
The Obama administration will preside over the first defense cuts since 1998. The uncertainty in military funding has made it extremely difficult to address already low readiness rates, future acquisition programs and operations.
Republicans on Capitol Hill all say they will fight to keep our troops properly funded, but this deal isn't making that task any easier.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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