Countdown to Sequestration: Nine Months to Go

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The U.S. government’s inability to get its fiscal house in order has led to the prospect of sequestration, as last year’s Budget Control Act spells out here:

That’s nine months from today…

Seems like a long time, but it’ll be here before you know it. If the law remains unchanged – and Congress and President Obama can’t agree on $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and/or tax revenues for the coming decade — the Pentagon faces the prospect of $500 billion in additional cuts over the coming decade. It would be painful because the cuts would be largely across the board, at least in the first year.

“Congress did a stupid thing,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told crewmembers of USS Peleliu during a shipboard visit off the Southern California coast Friday. “What they essentially did was to put a gun to their heads — and to the head of the country — and basically say that if they did not come up with a plan to reduce the deficit, that this so-called sequester process would go into effect.”

The Pentagon and its Republican allies are desperately trying to dodge the ax, but the GOP refuses to let tax hikes be part of the answer. The Democrats are basically saying: fine, if you’re not willing to consider increasing revenues, let the ax fall where it may.

Pentagon officials are nervously watching this game of political chicken. “It would be devastating,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, said last week. “We’ve already taken $50 billion a year, roughly, out of defense budget. So we’ll take roughly another $50 billion. That’s a $100 billion a year out of the budget” – around 15%.

Lawmakers increasingly seem to be betting that a lame-duck session of Congress will be able to save the day shortly before Jan. 2, 2013. They’re so busy fighting to preserve their own slices of pork they’ve lost sight of the bigger issue: funding the national security of the country in a smart and responsible manner.

Heck of a way to run a country.