House Republicans Gut Defense Sequestration Cuts

Another example of Republican foreign policy taking precedence over fiscal conservatism.

As they’ve been threatening to do for the past several months, today the Republican controlled Congress passed a bill to eliminate the defense portion of the sequestration cuts agreed to during last year’s debt ceiling negotiations and replace them with cuts in non-defense spending:

The House voted Thursday to override steep cuts to the Pentagon’s budget mandated by last summer’s debt deal and replace them with spending reductions to food stamps and other mandatory social programs.

While doomed in the Senate and opposed by the White House, the legislation, which would reduce the deficit by $243 billion, is a Republican marker for post-election budget talks with the White House.

Members approved the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act in a party-line 218-199 vote. As expected, the bill was supported by nearly all Republicans — only 16 opposed it, and no Democrats supported it.

Republicans voting against the bill were Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Roscoe Bartlett (Md.), Charlie Bass (N.H.), John Duncan (Tenn.), Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Tim Johnson (Ill.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Raul Labrador (Idaho), Steve LaTourette (Ohio), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Todd Platts (Pa.), Ed Whitfield (Ky.) and Frank Wolf (Va.). GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner (Wis.) voted present.

Republicans cast the bill as a first step back toward controlling federal spending, after years of allowing spending and deficits to balloon.

This isn’t entirely surprising, of course. Even before the ink was dry on the debt ceiling deal last August, the defense hawks in the House GOP Caucus were already talking about undoing the defense cuts and while the budget hawks and the House leadership were insisting at the time that the deal had to stay intact. Earlier this year, though, while Republican Senators began leading the effort to rollback the defense cuts and the House leadership soon fell in line, sending a signal that the deal that had been reached in August was effectively dead as far as they were concerned.

None of this is ever going to make it through the Senate, of course, and President Obama has already said he would veto and deal to undo the sequestration cuts unless it was part of a more comprehensive deal on the budget. What this is really about, then, is to set up a negotiating position for later in the year, most likely during a lame duck session after the Presidential and Congressional elections. The Republicans also want to keep this alive for the election, because it plays into the false meme that Obama is trying to weaking the military.

The reality, of course, is that these sequestration cuts don’t really amount to much of anything to begin with. What we’re talking about here aren’t spending cuts, but cuts in the rate of growth of spending. At the end of the ten years over which these cuts would take place, the Pentagon won’t end up much worse off than it would have under the budget that was under consideration last August before the deal was made:

Rather than cutting $400 billion in defense spending through 2023, as President Barack Obama had proposed in April, the current debt proposal trims $350 billion through 2024, effectively giving the Pentagon $50 billion more than it had been expecting over the next decade.

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, experts said, the overall change in defense spending practices could be minimal: Instead of cuts, the Pentagon merely could face slower growth.

“This is a good deal for defense when you probe under the numbers,” said Lawrence Korb, a defense expert at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning research center. “It’s better than what the Defense Department was expecting.”

Under the sequestration cuts, what we’re actually talking about is spending $50 billion less in projected spending every year for ten years.  As I noted back in November, if we can’t afford to cut that relatively tiny amount from the defense budget, then we’re doing something wrong:

If we cannot afford to cut $50 billion a year from the defense budget then we will never get a handle on the exploding Federal Budget deficit, and the idea that the cuts that would have to be implemented would endanger America is the same kind of fearmongering we  hear every time one weapons system or another gets questioned.  You can be sure, for example, that the defense industry lobby has been whispering in the ears of Republicans all over Capitol Hill, because their chief concern isn’t what’s best for the United States, but what’s best for the defense industry.

That’s the sad truth of what’s really going on not only in this case but with the absurdly astronomical increases in defense spending that Mitt Romney is proposing. None of this is really concerned about what’s really necessary for national security. If it was, we’d be talking about global strategies, how best to apply the military to those strategies, and what it would cost to do so. Instead, the Pentagon has become just another vast hole down which a lot of money is being thrown and then, every now and then, some President decides that we may as well use all that money to bomb somebody. How that is enhancing our national security is beyond me.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    fiscal conservatism

    There is no such thing in the GOP. At best, it is a marketing gimmick.

  2. george says:

    The Republicans and the Democrats are both for big gov’t, they just disagree on where the money should be spent.

    Neither have anything to do with fiscal conservatism, but in their favor, at least the Democrats don’t pretend they do.

  3. Jr says:

    @george: The Dems at least want to some what pay for by raising taxes…..the GOP wants it both ways, cut and spend.

  4. Ben says:

    That’s cute. So that debt deal was a “heads-I-win, tails-you-lose” deal, huh? That really shows the values and morality of the Republicans, doesn’t it? I’m sure Jesus would be totally cool with that sort of behavior, aka being duplicitous scumbags.

  5. george says:

    @Jr:

    That too is a fair statement. Currently the GOP (with their reluctance to raise taxes to pay for the size of military they want) is fiscally less conservative than the Democrats. Funny world.

  6. @george:

    The Grand Bargain, that maybe Obama and Boehner might have done without the Tea Party torpedo, was not a bad deal.

    It was, certainly compared to everything else since, fiscally conservative.

  7. Bigger picture … I think this has to play badly with a middle-America deeply fatigued with war.

  8. Hey Norm says:

    There is a very basic truth here…Republicans cannot be trusted to bargain in good faith. They made a deal. They renegged on the deal.
    Agree with sequestration or not…that is the basic fact here. Everything else is superfluous.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    This was a foregone conclusion. I complained about it back when the deal was negotiated.

  10. Loviatar says:

    @Hey Norm:

    There is a very basic truth here…Republicans cannot be trusted to bargain in good faith. They made a deal. They renegged on the deal.
    Agree with sequestration or not…that is the basic fact here. Everything else is superfluous.

    This, This, This, a thousand time This.
    .

    When you can no longer trust your adversary, they are no longer your opponent, they are now your enemy. Opponents can be negotiated with, enemies must be defeated.

  11. Scott F. says:

    Republicans cast the bill as a first step back toward controlling federal spending, after years of allowing spending and deficits to balloon.

    That Republicans can even try this argument just blows my mind. Trading defense cuts for social spending cuts is, on its face, revenue neutral NOT deficit reducing.

    How are statements like these just laughed out of the room?

  12. al-Ameda says:

    Republicans cast the bill as a first step back toward controlling federal spending, after years of allowing spending and deficits to balloon.

    Are you sure that it wasn’t Jon Stewart who “cast the bill as a first step back toward controlling federal spending, after years of allowing spending and deficits to balloon”?

    The Republican Party motto must be, “say it and they will believe it.”

  13. michael reynolds says:

    Republicans don’t want to balance the budget, they want to cut social programs. Period, end of story. The entire philosophy of the Republican party is a lie and has been since Ronald Reagan was elected.

  14. Gulliver says:

    Another example of Republican foreign policy taking precedence over fiscal conservatism

    Absolutely. Because national defence happens to be one of the clear enumerated powers that the Federal Government is tasked with providing. That means it takes precedence as a cost of doing business.

  15. Gulliver says:

    Crap… defense

    I’ve got to stop trying to post on 5 minute breaks…

    Ciao

  16. Fog says:

    This defense cut debate is going to show us just who runs this country. Ike was a pretty sharp guy, turns out.

  17. Scott B says:

    @john personna: However, whatever Grand Bargain there may be, it will not hold a single budget cycle.

  18. :LaMont says:

    I don’t get it Doug,

    By your own admission you agree that what the republicans are trying to keep intact is an insignificant 50 billion dollars a year cut from the defense budget. However, it comes at the cost of cutting social programs that will have a drastically negative affect on the unfortunate among us. If it’s not that big of a deal, and everyone agree that it should not be difficult to cut 50 billion out of what is still a huge defense budget, why are the republicans over-reacting? I understand this may be a negotiating strategy but the starting bet is insane! Yet, no one from the left can repeat this without many from the right (you included) calling it out as simply class warfare pandering. If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, its a duck!

  19. An Interested Party says:

    Because national defence happens to be one of the clear enumerated powers that the Federal Government is tasked with providing. That means it takes precedence as a cost of doing business.

    As if it is really necessary to spend around $1 trillion to defend our country…please…

  20. @Scott B:

    That’s the cynical position, I guess.

    But if we allow ourselves to think any kind of solution is possible … it would only be because something like the Grand Bargain was done, and stuck to.

  21. Hey Norm says:

    The new bill, required by Republicans renegging on last summer’s deal, intends to save defense spending without having to rely on taxes. Instead it cuts non-defense spending beyond what the deal Republicans renegged on in core benefit programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, and the child tax credit.
    The Republican program is clear here. I find it odd that they are being so brazen about it in an election year. The polling is all against them on this. They seem to be going all in. I don’t see how it’s a winner with anyone but their base.

  22. dennis says:

    @:LaMont:

    See michael reynold’s post above.

  23. LaMont says:

    @dennis:

    Yes, I saw that after the fact. I really should do a better job of reading all the comments before I post mine. Reynold, per usual, is right on.

  24. Rob in CT says:

    Heh. During the discussions of a possible “grand bargain” I recall various Conservative posters here claiming that the GOP couldn’t possibly trust the Dems to stick to a deal, so they shouldn’t make a deal that involved any tax increases (as the Dems would reneg on the spending cuts down the road).

    So they did a short-term deal, and who renegs on cuts? The GOP.

    The GOP budget agenda is clear as day for anyone with the wits to see it:

    Tax cuts aimed at the rich
    Spending cuts aimed at the poor
    More military spending

    It’s there in every tax plan they put out. It’s there in every budget plan they put out. It’s there in the historical record. If you cannot see it, you’re blind.

    If you WANT that, by all means vote GOP.

  25. Moosebreath says:

    “Another example of Republican foreign policy taking precedence over fiscal conservatism”

    I disagree with Doug here. Both last summer’s deal and the Republican proposal are equally good as to fiscal conservatism (i.e., not very). The difference is that this proposal transfers money from the poor to defense contractors. This for Republicans is an unalloyed good thing, and if passed would constitute a Republican win in the ongoing class war.

  26. @Rob in CT:

    Good point, Rob. The claim was made many, many, times that Dems reneg, and so a bargain could not be made.

  27. Hey Norm says:

    @ Rob…
    Doug loves himself some BOTH SIDES DO IT…but we have seen a stark diffence in vision here in just the last couple days…with a budget that funds the military industrial complex on the backs of the poor…and with civil rights in the case of same-sex marriage. It’s shaping up to be the election I thought we might get with Perry…a real discussion of what Americans want America to be. I didn’t think we would get the same discussion out of somone as charachter-free as Romney…but the Republicans seem intent on having the discussion anyway. I don’t see how it is successful. But I never thought we would elect Bush in 2004…so that proves what I know.

  28. Anderson says:

    Note to Doug: give your posts a final read for how many times you’ve written “of course.”

  29. mannning says:

    Playing with the defense budget is simply normal politics, and right on schedule it is cast by Dems as “on the backs of poor people”. Without consideration of how entitlements need to be controlled, it appears that way for sure.

    The last accounting I saw was that entitlements have reached 70% of the budget, and far more importantly, entail a projected unfunded and expanding obligation of some $45 Trillion over 75 years (GAO), beside which this $50 Billion defense change over 20 years argument appears to be a pittance. $45 Trillion over 75 years reduces to about $12 Trillion in 20 years to compare it with the same timeframe of 20 years.

    One could surmise that it is far preferable to Dems to argue heatedly over the mousey 20-year defense budget change of $50 Billion now in order to mask the true elephant in the room–20-years of entitlements at $12 Trillion. I wonder who really profits excessively from these entitlements after the beneficiaries are paid; perhaps more likely to be doctors, hospitals, medical suppliers, Obamacare overhead, and pharmacuticals than defense contractors, wouldn’t you say?