Obama's Claim of Sequester Cuts' Harm to Defense Questioned

Obama's Claim of Sequester Cuts' Harm to Defense Questioned

Barack Obama, eager to use the sequester and its attendant budget cuts as a weapon against the GOP, and his Defense Department have asserted that the cuts would threaten vital national security interests, but there is evidence to suggest that neither Obama nor the Pentagon is telling the whole truth.

The typical approach of the Pentagon is to insist that a vital program (usually referred to as a “gold watch”) would be threatened by any defense cuts, thus torpedoing the entire effort to cut defense spending. 

This time, the Pentagon is claiming that if the sequester goes through, the Navy would be unable to deploy the carrier USS Harry S. Truman to the Persian Gulf, leaving only one U.S. carrier to deal with the incipient Iranian threat. Obama said Tuesday, “Already, the threat of these cuts has forced the Navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf.”

One retired general dismissed Obama’s remark as “a total gold watch.” Military commentator and retired Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters went on the record, saying the Navy’s move was “ostentatious… Donald Trump claiming he can’t afford a cab.” 

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was even more suspicious, citing not only the Truman claim, but also the Navy’s claim that it won’t have the funds to refuel another carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln. 

Hunter said blisteringly, “I am concerned that these decisions are being made for the purpose of adding drama to the sequestration debate, given the continuation of other programs that are worthy of cost-cuts or even elimination.”

The problem with the Pentagon’s predictions of disaster is that the sequester’s cuts would not actually decrease the defense budget, but only slow the rate of increase; the defense budget, even with the sequester’s cuts, will increase by $121 billion between 2014 and 2023.

Additionally, these figures are based on the war in Afghanistan continuing. As former CBO chief Douglas Holtz-Eakin admitted, “The rules the CBO has to follow are that any spending on the books (‘current law’) is assumed to grow at the rate of inflation. That means that it overstates spending when you plan to cut back in the future but have not yet passed a law (future appropriation) that reflects it.”

The Pentagon won’t allow an audit of its finances, even though Congress required an audit as far back as 1990. Last year, Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) proposed the Audit the Pentagon Act, which hasn’t been implemented yet.

A spokesman for Coburn voiced skepticism about the Defense Department’s protestations:

It’s difficult to take these doomsday scenarios seriously when the Pentagon can’t even audit its own books. We would argue that the Defense Department has the authority to reprioritize funding toward vital needs and away from less vital spending. As Sen. Coburn has detailed, the department spends nearly $70 billion each year on ‘nondefense’ defense spending that has nothing to do with our national security.

One Senate aide was even more scornful, saying, “If you laid off these people, or you diverted this aircraft carrier, then why did you go ahead and travel to a conference in Bermuda or continue to pay contractors’ inflated salaries? Those are the questions we are going to ask.”