There are several ways in which the Defense Department’s extended whine about automatic sequestration cuts to their base budget is a joke, but the White House has apparently sniffed out one of those ways. The Overseas Contingency budget has quickly become a slush fund for the Pentagon. Money earmarked to go toward operations in Iraq and Afghanistan often ends up paying for cherished Pentagon programs. The White House wants to put a stop to this.

The White House is placing new limits on war spending, making it more difficult for the Pentagon to outmaneuver its new budget caps, according to recent guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Instead, the White House wants the Pentagon to start funding more activities through its base budget, shutting off a potential loophole to the Budget Control Act passed in August [...]

The Senate, in its versions of the defense appropriations and authorization bills, has already made use of this loophole, shifting billions out of the base budget and into the contingency bill, while still complying with the spending caps for 2012 [...]

However, a recent “passback” document from OMB to the Pentagon shows the White House might have little tolerance for this, according to a source who reviewed the 23-page document.

For its 2013 budget, the Defense Department needs to provide line item-level detail by Aug. 1, 2012, of the “enduring activities” that could be shifted out of the OCO bill and into the base budget. These could include depot work, equipment maintenance or training activities. It would also include support operations for bases that are part of U.S. Central Command’s permanent infrastructure.

The easy way to deal with this slush fund is to simply end these unnecessary wars, or to at least cap the spending on them, which has been proposed a number of times as a budget measure. That would prevent the shifting of funds to get around budget cuts. But just alerting DoD that the White House budget office is on to this game could prevent this from happening as much as if they turned a blind eye.

So if the armed forces cannot use their slush fund, how will they meet the limits mandated by the trigger cuts and other budget constraints? By cutting people, of course, not weapons. Perish the thought!

The Marine Corps plans to shed troops, not weapons programs, next year in order to meet the budget cuts mandated by the August debt-ceiling deal, a senior service official said Wednesday [...]

For now, the Marine Corps is making sure that its hardware programs are off the chopping block.

“In terms or procurement, we have protected that,” Assistant Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford said Wednesday.

The Marines will achieve their portion of the cuts, in part, by shrinking from 202,000 troops to 186,800. Officials also have “reduced capacity” elsewhere, Dunford said.

The next time Leon Panetta whines and cries about not having the forces to succeed in a 21st-century threat environment, remember that they had a choice to reduce forces or eliminate unnecessary weapons programs. They chose the former. I’m sure that newfangled fighter jet will look great on an aircraft carrier. I wonder who will pilot it.