Reaping Non-Existent Savings From Defense

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The President’s plan for deficit reduction, sent today to the Super Committee, collects 25% of its overall spending reductions by bringing the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Bringing them home is probably a good thing, but the budget savings the administration claims will only appear when porcine animals are airborne. The proposal bags over a trillion from defense by measuring savings against the Congressional Budget office baseline.

CBO, however, does not do a programmatic estimates of war costs. It is constrained to project funding, once appropriated, out into the future, as if it were going to continue at that level forever. It’s a “mechanical.” So the $159 billion appropriated for the wars in FY 2011 is inflated for ten years, as if it were going to continue for ten years. The number is a phoney. The savings are not real.

And because the administration (and the Simpson-Bowles Commission, and the Gang of Six, and Rep. Paul Ryan) all claim them, they can say defense contributed to deficit reduction, when it does not. And, in any case, the super committee is not supposed to deal with war costs; they are off the table.

The rubber will hit the road for defense when the super committee decides it will tackle something more than the $350 billion in savings over ten years the administration claims is already realized through passage of the Budget Control Act.

Those are easy; just take the FY 2011 figure for defense and inflate it over ten years and you can pretty much get home. No discipline at all. And it is time for discipline in the defense budget. Hopefully, the super committee will provide it, but don’t hold your breath, or launch the bacon.