- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2011

The supercommittee was unable last week to agree on a plan to pay for the next trillion to be added to our $15 trillion debt. That failure triggers a sequestration mechanism that hits the Pentagon harder than any other part of our bloated federal government.

The $1.2 trillion in automatic “cuts” are based on phony Washington math - no spending will actually be reduced. Rather, outlays on most government programs will increase 68 percent over the next decade, relative to President Obama’s inflated 2012 budget request. Defense will increase just 2 percent - essentially, it’s a freeze on military spending. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said this “will lead to a hollow force” that “invites aggression.”

Republicans think defense spending should be protected. In an editorial board meeting with The Washington Times, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain vowed to overturn the sequester, noting the military’s planning cycle is longer than that of other agencies. “The bad news is for the next year - all through until 2013 - the Defense Department is going to have all those programs on hold … until they know who’s going to president,” he said.

Defense programs can’t be turned on and off like a light switch. The acquisition cycle begins far in advance, and it takes years for a weapon to go from the research and development stage to a soldier’s hands. Mr. Panetta insisted the change in funding expectations would mean delaying and driving up costs for the Joint Strike Fighter and P-8 reconnaissance aircraft.

Nevertheless, some analysts think the defense budget is in need of real savings. “In an almost $500 billion budget - that has grown dramatically in the past 10 years - how can there be no waste or inefficiency and every weapon is essential to our protection?” asked Veroniqe de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

She argued the sequester levels would only mean that Defense won’t be able to fund everything it wanted to and that it will have to prioritize. She also pointed out that the department could continue to dip into $100 billion a year in war funding. “I assume they are going to draw back on troops and use emergency spending for funding a lot of regular functions,” she predicted.

Congressional Republicans are pushing for change. House Armed Service Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California will soon introduce legislation to undo the effects of sequestration on defense. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are considering the same in the upper chamber. Mr. Obama has threatened to veto any attempt to restructure the sequester.

As the wars are winding down, there’s room to debate the Pentagon budget. However, we’re not seeing a sincere debate about priorities. Mr. Obama is pandering to his base, which has never had any love for the military. The near-freeze in spending needs to apply equally to programs the Democrats favor.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.