The House passed a bill yesterday that would force the Office of Management and Budget to detail how they would deal with the sequestration cuts that would trigger on January 1 if Congress takes no further action. While it has the added benefit of forcing the President to detail specific cuts to the federal workforce, which could theoretically get used in an election campaign, the bill had strong bipartisan support, passing by a 414-2 margin. Similar legislation passed the Senate as part of their version of the farm bill. So this is likely to get done. In fact, Harry Reid said he would consider a floor vote for it.
Importantly, the legislation would require detail on sequestration in both defense and discretionary spending, which goes against the grain of the single-minded focus in Washington on just the defense budget.
That consensus against cuts to defense spending faces a challenge from a bipartisan set of lawmakers. Barney Frank and freshman Republican Congressman Mick Mulvaney have an amendment to the upcoming defense authorization bill that would freeze defense spending, providing time to assess how to institute the trigger cuts.
“How do you do you say, ‘We want to cut the FBI’s budget by 20 percent, you want to cut the Department of Education by X percent,’ but you want to plus up the defense budget?” said Mulvaney. “I think it undermines the severity [of the country's budget woes.]”
On Wednesday, executives from top defense contractors told the House Armed Services Committee that the looming threat of $500 billion in automatic cuts to the Pentagon would soon have a dramatic impact on employment. Lockheed Martin CEO Bob Stevenson said his firm alone stands to lose 10,000 employees if the cuts go into effect.
Frank and Mulvaney said some of that could be prevented by more intelligent cuts to the defense budget.
“It’s like a geological thing — there are layers and layers and layers” of programs addressing outdated threats, Frank argued.
We’ve heard a lot over the years about “war-weariness” from the right, and a sea change on defense matters. Right now I would caution not to believe it. But where the defense budget intersects with deficit hysteria, strange coalitions can form.