11.23.2011 1

Panetta’s political Defense cut threat

By Bill Wilson — On Nov. 14, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a letter to Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham threatened to gut the nation’s defenses under the guise of enforcing the sequestration provisions of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

“Absent Congressional approval, current law does not provide flexibility.  It dictates sequester cuts must be applied in equal percentages to each ‘program, project, and activity,’” wrote Secretary Panetta, apparently quoting the legislation.

“The impacts of these cuts would be devastating for the Department,” he added.

For example, Panetta claims there will 23 percent cuts to every single project not exempted under the law rendering them “unexecutable”, 20 percent cuts in personnel and “the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.”

It is hard to imagine Congress would have ever enacted the legislation if what he says is true.

But, leaving congressional intent aside, there is a major flaw to this portion of the letter, and the analysis that flows from it.  Namely, there is no requirement in the legislation that sequester cuts be applied in equal percentages to each “program, project, and activity.”

The Secretary is not even quoting from the legislation itself.  There is no portion of the bill where one can find an instance of the words, “program, project, and activity.” In fact, one can neither find the words “project” nor “activity” in the bill.

Members of Congress should be curious to see what he was actually quoting, but it does not appear to have been the legislation.

The legislation actually says, “Each non-exempt account within a category shall be reduced by a dollar amount calculated by multiplying the enacted level of sequestrable budgetary resources in that account at that time by the uniform percentage necessary to eliminate a breach within that category.”

That does not mean, for example, that if a project costs $2 million, that under sequester it is now cut by 23 percent to $1.54 million.  By our reading, it would mean the overall defense budget would be reduced below its previous baseline to meet the new budget caps.  That might mean some previously planned programs are delayed or cancelled, but it hardly means that every single item on the budget is supposed to be short-funded.

In fact, defense spending under the sequestration will actually rise by 18 percent from 2013 to 2021, as revealed by National Review’s Veronique de Rugy using Congressional Budget Office data.  That occurs after a slight reduction from 2012 to 2013 in the teens of billions.  Hardly the nightmare scenario that the Secretary outlines.

Nonetheless, Panetta is threatening to slash across-the-board every single “program, project, and activity,” when it is actually up to Congress to set up spending levels via the appropriations process within the context of the budget caps starting with Fiscal Year (FY) 2013.

But even if Panetta and the Obama White House were to insist on their odd interpretation of the law, it could easily be modified before FY 2013 without removing the budget caps that Congress previously agreed to.

There may be a better explanation for Panetta’s bombshell announcement earlier this month.  It may have been a threat to scare Republicans on the Supercommittee into supporting a bad deal that included tax increases on producers and job creators during a sharp recession.

Panetta and Obama may be using our service men and women as pawns in their relentless drive to piles taxes on the American people.  If so, that would mean they were willing to put our fighting men and women in jeopardy just to get more private wealth in the government’s control.  And that is simply deplorable.

Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government. Y0u can follow Bill on Twitter at @BillWilsonALG.

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