debt ceiling — a political minefield
— by early March and try to determine federal spending levels for the
last six months of the fiscal year.
The stopgap continuing resolution (CR), which is funding the
federal government at fiscal 2012
levels, expires March 27. Without
an agreement in place to either
extend the CR or set new spending
levels for the current fiscal year,
the government would have to
shut down by that date.
Todd Harrison, an analyst at the
Center for Strategic and Budgetary
Assessments, said Jan. 9 he believes
this confluence of events, which he
refers to as “March Madness,” makes
it less likely than before that lawmakers will be able to avert sequestration.
There may be another effort to
delay its implementation, he said,
but even if there is a deal on deficit
reduction, defense, which makes
up half of all federal discretionary
spending, likely would be a significant part of the deal — likely
meaning somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 billion to $300
billion cut over the next decade.
Harrison said the sudden, dramatic drop in spending that sequestration would force — as well
as the across-the-board nature of
the cuts — would make it all the
more difficult to implement. But he
also suggested it may not necessarily be the doomsday scenario
Defense Department leaders have
made it out to be.
“I think it’s a mess. I think it forces
a lot of really stupid decisions,” he
said. “I think it’s shortsighted. But
we’ll survive it, if it happens.”
“We’ve heard that already on the front lines in Afghanistan,
the troops have serious questions about sequestration. This
is not just a Washington issue. It’s a Camp Bastion issue. It’s
an issue at Incirlik. It’s an issue at our bases in Asia. We need
to think carefully about this.”
George E. Little
Pentagon Press Secretary
Noting the far-reaching concerns about sequestration, during a Pentagon briefing.
Armed Forces Press Service, Jan. 8
“It’s made it far easier to say, ‘We can’t do more.’ And without
addressing the debt issues, it will be easier to make that
argument for years to come.”
Dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University
On the potential foreign policy and global influence implications of the fiscal situation in the United States.
New York Times, Jan. 4
Panetta: Fiscal Uncertainty
Is Most Immediate Threat
Panetta has ordered the military to
begin taking “prudent steps to
reduce expenditures” in an attempt
to reduce the potential harm to
national security if Congress cannot
avoid sequester and the other “fiscal
cliff” threats that are looming.
Panetta and Dempsey said the
spending reductions would affect
routine training, maintenance of
aircraft, ships and facilities and
delay hiring of Department of
Defense civilian employees.
In a briefing for Pentagon reporters on Jan. 10, Panetta said
that although the United States
faces “a number of adversaries”
around the world, “the most immediate threat that we face is fiscal
uncertainty” created by the threat
of sequester, the pending March
expiration of the CR that is funding the government and the approaching debt ceiling limit that
could prevent the government
from paying all its bills.
He called the combination of
the three fiscal threats “a perfect
storm” that could lead to a “hollow
force,” which would not be ready
to defend the nation.
Panetta noted that the department already is making its contribution to resolving the budget
deficit problem by planning to
reduce expected spending by $487
billion over 10 years. The DoD can
do that and still support the new
national strategy announced last
year, he said, but “if we face additional meat ax cuts due to
sequester” they could not sustain
If sequester hit, “we would have
to ground aircraft, return ships to
port, maybe furlough civilian employees and we would be unable to
reset the force after a decade of
war,” Dempsey said.
Reset means the repair or
replacement of equipment and
weapons worn out or destroyed in
Iraq and Afghanistan.
“After a few months, we would
be less prepared. After a year, we
would be unprepared,” he said.
The two leaders said the impact
on most of the force would be aggravated by the fact that they would not
deprive funds for the continuing
fight in Afghanistan or for units
preparing to deploy to the fight.
With three deadlines looming,
“we have no idea what the hell will
happen,” Panetta said.