Both Barrels

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Sequestration increasing looks like it is going to happen. The Pentagon reacted Wednesday the only way it can: by screaming bloody murder, and firing two warning shots to highlight the pain an additional $600 billion in military spending over the coming decade will mean.

By mid-afternoon, cable TV was buzzing with reports that the Pentagon will seek to cap military pay raises at 1% next year:

The recommendation is tied to the Defense Department’s 2014 budget recommendation, which was expected to be sent to Congress this month, one of the officials said. But the officials acknowledge it is going to be seen as an effort to push Congress to stop the automatic budget cuts that could go into effect if no deal is reached on spending reductions.

…CNN’s Barbara Starr reported.

A short time later, a second wave of stories emerged about the U.S. Navy deciding against a planned deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman to the Persian Gulf:

Budget strains will force the Pentagon to cut its aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf area from two carriers to one. As a result, the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman won’t deploy from Norfolk on Friday as planned.

…the carrier’s hometown paper, the Viginian-Pilot, reported.

The day began with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta denouncing Congress for its inability to get the nation’s spending priorities straight. Under a law Congress passed in 2011, it has until March 1 to come up with a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction package over the coming decade. If it fails to do so, roughly half those cuts will be lopped from the Pentagon’s budget.

But Panetta, speaking at Georgetown University, began with a strange choice of words:

After a decade of blank-check spending in the Department of Defense it was important of us, the leaders of the department, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the service chiefs, the service secretaries and myself, who strongly believe that we had to meet this challenge of reducing the defense budget.

Panetta believes that the $487 billion already whittled off the Pentagon’s projected rate of spending increases is sufficient. But that does not represent a cut in actual spending. If sequestration comes, that will trim Pentagon spending by about 10%, or back to its 2007 level.

Panetta detailed some of what he says sequestration would mean for the services:


We’re going to cut back on Army training and maintenance, putting about two-thirds of our active brigade combat teams outside Afghanistan at a reduced readiness level.  We’ve got to cut back on their training.  We’re going to have to cut back on the ability to support the troops who are not in the war zone.  So what happens is we put more stress on those who are in the war zone.


We’re going to have to shrink our global naval operations with a reduction of as much as one-third in our western Pacific naval operations. This whole idea about trying to rebalance will be impacted.

Air Force:

We’ll cut the Air Force flying hours and weapons system maintenance, putting flying units below acceptable readiness standards by the end of the fiscal year.

Pentagon civilians:

We will furlough as many as 800,000 DOD civilians around the country for up to 22 days. They could face a 20 percent cut in their salary.

Interestingly, he didn’t cite the Marines Perhaps he deemed them a lesser-included contingency — a Pentagon term of art during the Cold War — under the Navy’s umbrella.

With sequestration three weeks away (absent an additional congressional stunt, which is always a possibility), Pentagon nerves are fraying.

That’s what happens when you spend money you don’t have.