Republicans on Capitol Hill are floating the idea of a ceiling for defense cuts mandated by the deficit-reduction supercommittee that would not exceed $150 billion over 10 years.
Congressional sources said the $150 billion figure is cited often in private talks among staffers but is by no means final.
In fact, several Republicans say they will oppose further Pentagon budget reductions, after last month’s Budget Control Act pared $340 billion of defense spending from 2013 to 2021.
If the $150 billion were to become reality, it would mean nearly $500 billion in military spending reductions over that period.
“The $500 billion is the secret number,” said a defense industry executive who spoke with congressional staffers this week. “That’s about as far as Republicans will go before they walk. Find $150 billion in fat and waste.”
The 12-member supercommittee is charged with finding $1.5 trillion in tax increases and/or spending cuts over the next 10 years. If the bipartisan panel fails to agree on a plan this year, automatic cuts to defense and domestic programs would take effect.
The defense industry source said the Republican strategy would be to reject the committee’s plan if it exceeds $150 billion and then see if the budget act’s automatic cuts take effect or if the committee relents on defense.
A congressional staffer told The Washington Times: “That’s the number floating around, but I’m not sure how certain that dollar amount actually is.”
The automatic cuts would shrink defense spending by an additional $454 billion, according to a Sept. 12 Congressional Budget Office report, bringing the total to about $800 billion. Total cuts to security, including the State Department and Homeland Security, would likely reach $1 trillion.
The Joint Selected Committee on Deficit Reduction, as the supercommittee is formally called, is expected to receive briefings next month from Congress’ defense committees on what options exist.
The Pentagon is now in the throes of a “budget drill,” coming up with initial cuts in the 2013 budget submitted to Congress in February and tackling scenarios for smaller, long-term spending.
The Army, for example, is looking at eliminating soldiers by taking down five to eight Brigade Combat Teams. The Navy could cancel its next-generation ballistic missile submarine, according to defense industry executives.
The six-Republican, six-Democrat supercommittee includes Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, one of the GOP’s most pro-defense legislators. Mr. Kyl last week said he would quit the panel if it starts negotiating arms spending reductions.
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is one of several Republicans who say the supercommittee should immunize the Pentagon against more cuts.
“The defense budget has already taken a major hit,” said Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper. “It can’t take much more. We are on the verge of making a bad situation even worse, and lawmakers need to think long and hard before they put their name behind any additional cuts in defense.”
Republicans have asked the Obama administration to present a new strategy for what specific missions it wants the military to retain or relinquish, under the pressure of less spending. The Pentagon now spends about $530 billion annually, not counting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The point is, it’s a terrible idea to cut spending when we don’t know if we are making the necessary investment in defense to begin with,” Mr. Kasper said.
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said this week the supercommittee is setting up Republicans for votes to either raise taxes or slash defense.
“Folks, it is impossible to pay our entitlement tab with the Pentagon’s credit card,” Mr. McKeon said.
Democrats are more willing to take on the Pentagon. Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, has proposed $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has warned of a “hollow force” if automatic, across-the-board cuts bombard the Pentagon.
In a related matter, the Aerospace Industries Association and top executives from companies such as Boeing and Pratt & Whitney said reductions beyond the 10-year, $350 billion cut in this summer’s debt accord would have a devastating impact on the defense industry, the Associated Press reported.