When Harry Reid delivered a debt limit deal back in July that included $1 trillion in savings for drawing down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Republicans were dismissive. They called it a budget gimmick, a phantom “savings” that would have been achieved anyway.
Then they got to the Super Committee and realized they didn’t really want to risk cutting much of anything. So the war savings have been put back on the table.
The congressional “supercommittee” is looking to count as budget savings as much as $700 billion that the nation no longer plans to spend on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next decade, an accounting gimmick that has drawn fire from both Democrats and Republicans.
In deference to that criticism, aides from both parties said the panel would not count war savings toward its primary debt-reduction goal of at least $1.2 trillion. Instead, they are considering using the savings to “pay for” other priorities, such as extending emergency unemployment benefits and a temporary payroll tax cut currently enjoyed by every American worker.
Both measures are scheduled to expire at the end of this year, potentially damaging the fragile recovery — an outcome that President Obama and other Democrats are eager to avoid. Unless their cost is offset by other savings, however, extending them through 2012 would add billions to next year’s budget deficit — an outcome Republicans oppose.
With money being fungible, it doesn’t matter whether war savings are being used as a pure deficit reducer or as an offset to other spending measures. What matters is that every dollar “saved” through that measure means that a dollar from Medicaid, or food stamps, or Secion 8 housing, or whatever else, doesn’t have to be saved to reach the overall budget target. So I’m all for it. What’s more, there is an importance to drawing a statutory line in the sand and saying that spending on these wars which have gone on for too long will be capped. It makes it more difficult to rejoin the fight, as some Republican Senators clearly want to do.
(Incidentally, check out the bombshell that some military counter-terrorism specialists will continue to provide training to Iraqi security forces after the end of the year, essentially what the Obama Administration wanted all along, and seemingly in total violation of the status of forces agreement. But that’s a post for another time.)
All of this is predicated on the notion that the Super Committee will actually have something to present by next week, which is just not all that likely. Nobody sees the trigger as a forcing mechanism because nobody seriously believes it will be enacted. No credit rating agency will downgrade US debt because of failure on the committee. The White House basically doesn’t care. And the election – as well as the 99% movement message on jobs and income inequality – has vastly overshadowed the proceedings.
But if they come up with some kind of fallback measure, you can bet it will include the war savings. As for the trigger on defense cuts, Leon Panetta has become a pathetic figure, whining about decimated military forces. I’ll use Barney Frank as a counterpoint.