The $450 Billion Question: Remains Unanswered

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So this is the week where Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is going to give us a peek into where he wants to cut $450 billion in military spending over the coming decade. It’s the lead story in the New York Times Tuesday morning, but, alas, it really doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. That’s not reporters Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker’s fault – they’re real pros. But one of the obligation of writing for what some of us still call the newspaper of record is that they sometimes have to write what we call curtain-raisers, to highlight coming action.

The lone bit of news in the story is that $260 billion of the $450 billion in planned cuts is slated to happen in the first five years. But there are no details about the coming cuts; this Panetta would make a heck of a plumber – there are no leaks. That forces an all-start roster of outsiders to weigh in on what might be on the chopping block:

Gordon Adams, who oversaw military budgets in the Clinton White House and is now a fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit research group in Washington…Arnold L. Punaro, a consultant on a Pentagon advisory group, the Defense Business Board…Travis Sharp, a defense budget specialist at the Center for a New American Security, a defense policy research institution…Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a nonpartisan policy and research group in Washington…Michael E. O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution and the author of a recent book, “The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity”…Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., a military expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments….Stephen W. Young, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nuclear watchdog group.

Seven experts discussing $450 billion in cuts – that works out to $64.3 billion per opinion. Bottom line: the curtain has yet to go up, so we don’t really know what’s behind it. The possible cuts detailed in the Times on Tuesday have been debated nonstop over the last several months. But most folks don’t pay attention until such decisions are ready to be unveiled, which makes the Times’ recitation timely.