July 31, 2014

Posts on defense

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Monday, November 18, 2013 - 1:16 PM

In recent interviews and speeches, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the military is “challenging every past assumption, every past formula” for allocating budget resources as he tries to reorganize the military for 21st century challenges in the face of a rapidly tightening budget.

Hagel appears to be on the right path in encouraging top Pentagon officials to take a fresh look at everything in setting defense priorities. But uncertainties about sequestration and the Fiscal 2014 budget in general are complicating that work.

In January a new round of sequester cuts is scheduled to reduce the military’s budget cap by $21 billion. The Pentagon faces nearly $1 trillion in overall spending cuts over the next decade due to the budget caps and sequestration put in place by the Budget Control Act. In FY 2012, the defense budget was $670 billion.

Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale says he implemented $37 billion in cuts required by the sequester earlier this year in part by delaying sending army units...

Monday, April 29, 2013 - 9:32 AM

Although Congress has plenty of serious budget work to do, lawmakers in both parties can’t seem to resist frittering away time and confusing the public with various proposals that serve no useful purpose. Last week offered a couple good examples.

House Republicans distracted themselves with a bill that would set priorities for payments on federal obligations if the debt limit were reached. There’s understandable confusion and disagreement over what exactly the bill would do, but the general idea seems to be that the federal government could somehow limit the damage of a default by presenting itself to the world as only a partial deadbeat.

As approved by a party-line vote Wednesday in the House Ways and Means Committee, the legislation would tell the Treasury to continue making payments on principal and interest on U.S. debt obligations – and keep Social Security checks going out, of course.

Becoming a partial deadbeat apparently requires some special accounting rules, and so those were tacked onto the legislation. Alas, the nation’s creditors and global financial markets are under no obligation to embrace lawmakers’ unconventional notions about what might constitute a government default.

In any case, there is really...

Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 9:10 AM

Beginning in January, approximately $109 billion in across-the-board spending cuts are scheduled to automatically take effect. Known in budget policy circles as a “sequester,” these cuts are unusual in that the executive branch directs how the spending cuts occur, as opposed to the traditional locus for such cuts -- the congressional Appropriations Committees.

Because this sequester could have such a dramatic impact on many federal programs and the economy in general, Congress is eagerly awaiting specifics about how the administration plans to implement the cuts. On Tuesday President Obama signed the Sequestration Transparency Act, which requires him and the Office of Management and Budget to put forth a report in 30 days on how a sequester would be implemented. An overwhelming House majority passed the legislation last month, and the Senate approved it unanimously.

Sequesters have been part of the budget process for decades. Were this sequester to go into effect, however, it would be among the few that have ever actually taken place in this country’s history, and would certainly have the greatest budgetary effect.

The sequester was initially intended as a “Sword of Damocles” over the “super committee” created by the August 2011 deal to raise the debt limit. It was not actually designed to take effect;...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 - 3:52 PM

By Rebecca Williams 

A viable plan to reduce our country’s mounting deficits and debt will be built on painful choices that include revenue increases and cuts to all government spending, including entitlements and defense. With such thorny issues at stake, it should come at no surprise that many policymakers turn to the easy issue first -- foreign aid. Even here, though, there are no exceptions to the need for government to act and spend strategically.

Skeptics of foreign aid question its effectiveness and value, and some hope to dramatically reduce America’s debt by slashing aid. Meanwhile, proponents insist that foreign aid is an art more than a science -- a modest investment that furthers U.S. foreign policy and addresses a few of the world’s ills.

But hardliners in both camps distort what actually goes on.

Americans significantly overestimate how much our government spends in this area. Respondents to one poll guessed that around 25 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. In reality, it’s approximately 1 percent. The U.S. government will spend $39 billion on foreign aid in FY2011, a sum equal to 3 percent of the estimated $1.4 trillion deficit. 

Ending or deeply cutting foreign aid will not radically alter federal spending or contribute significantly...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010 - 8:16 AM

If President Obama was looking for Congress to rubber-stamp his request for additional “emergency” funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, he was sorely disappointed. He asked for the money last February but a wary Congress didn’t approve the funding until just last week, and only after considerable debate over the war effort and U.S. spending priorities.

Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington state, offered a striking example of the trade-offs that are involved in heavy spending abroad at a time when communities around the country are struggling financially:  A police department in his district could lose as many as 23 jobs.

“We can’t pay for them – our first line of security in our neighborhood – but today we would be voting for something on the order of several years of about $4 billion to train police officers in Kabul,” Inslee said. Another notable dissent came from House Appropriations Chairman David Obey of Wisconsin, who expressed concern about the high cost of the war and doubts about the Afghan government.

The legislation provides for $59 billion in additional spending this year, with $33.5 billion going to the Department of Defense and the rest...

Monday, June 21, 2010 - 10:43 AM

Last month I participated in a conference of mostly military officials and national security experts at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. The conference title was “Economics and Security: Resourcing National Priorities.” 

Since then the debates over economic stimulus versus deficit reduction got pretty hot and heavy, and a funny thing happened. I began to recognize quite a few parallels between the other fiscal policy issues I always write about, and this particular angle that I really have never written about: the role of defense and national security spending in achieving fiscal sustainability.

First, I think most Americans (regardless of what they think of our wars and military activity more generally) assume that cuts in the national security budget would weaken our defense capabilities -- that a trade-off exists between deficit reduction and a strong defense. But what surprised me the most at the Naval War College conference was learning that most of the national security officials and experts there, who all advocate for a strong defense, believed that if the defense budget were tightened, the quality of defense spending would actually improve

All seemed to recognize that given...