Countdown to Sequestration: Two Months to Go

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Hard to believe that after six months of counting down to Jan. 2 – when the Pentagon faces a cut of a half-trillion dollars over the coming decade – that neither Congress nor President Obama has done much of anything to avert the looming crisis.

That’s because politicians love loud inertia – shouting and screaming about the impending cuts, while actually doing little to prevent them.

Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, Congress and the President must agree to a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction package over the coming 10 years. If they fail to strike such a deal, the cuts will happen automatically – half from security spending, nearly all of which will come from Pentagon coffers, and half from non-security accounts. The Pentagon cuts would lead to reductions, in all but personnel accounts, of about 10%, which would pare defense spending to about 2007’s level.

It has been clear for months that nothing is going to happen on a deal to avoid this so-called sequestration until after next week’s election.

But the way things look, it doesn’t appear as if either party is going to win a mandate come Tuesday. Plainly, a solution could emerge where the Republicans allow for some revenue increases, and the Democrats agree that half the spending cuts don’t have to come from the Pentagon’s hide.

As of last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Defense Department hasn’t started planning for the cuts, if they come. “We have not received that word from OMB” to begin planning (as if the Pentagon always does what the Office of Management and Budget tells it to do). “And, you know, I guess in line with the President’s comments, and my comments, and everybody else’s comments, the hope is that sequester won’t happen.”

In the final presidential debate, Obama pledged that sequestration “will not happen.” But it’s tough, pre-election, to see how it can be avoided without some legislative legerdemain that won’t address the core issue – not enough money – that put us in this pickle in the first place.