About That Trillion-Dollar Cut

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INCOMING! One trillion dollars in cuts?

Seems all the bluster about cutting military spending by $1 trillion over the next decade – about 15% — isn’t the hair-on-fire moment that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his congressional allies have been suggesting.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, the Pentagon has already agreed to cut nearly $500 billion from its 10-year spending plan. A second half-trillion cut (paring military spending back to 2007’s level) could come if Congress and the White House can’t agree on a plan over the next 12 months to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion. Battleland wrote about the possibility of such a trillion-dollar cut nearly a year ago, when it was deemed zany, in polite company. Yet contrary to Pentagon warnings, there is wiggle room about how the $1 trillion in cuts would be allocated in its first year – and even some lawmakers now think the deeper cut is doable.

Ace correspondent – and former Marine aviator – Otto Kreisher reports over at AOL Defense from a Precision Strike Association (and you thought PSA stood for public service announcement) confab:

Jenness Simler, a policy director for [House Armed Services Committee] chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said that while most committee members believe “sequester is unacceptable,” some committee members think that defense could handle the $1 trillion reduction that sequester would impose. Creighton Greene, a veteran SASC staffer, agreed. “Except for a few outliers, I don’t think anyone thinks sequester for defense makes sense,” Greene said. But, he added, “I don’t think there is an easy out on avoiding sequester.”

Meanwhile, Emelie Rutherford of Defense Daily listened to John Cooney, a former OMB general counsel, dispel some of the doom. Pentagon officials have insisted that, except for personnel accounts, all other military spending accounts would have the same percentage sliced from their bottom lines in the first year of sequestration beginning next January. Not necessarily so:

Cooney said those sequestration cuts — which some lawmakers are trying to prevent — would not necessarily result in across-the-board reductions to defense contracts…“OMB can issue a directive to an agency to say, ‘I know in this line item you have $1 million to spread among these six programs. We want you to spend no more than $50,000 on programs one, two, and three, and we want the rest split equally between the other programs,’” the former OMB official said…“In other words, the president could put a thumb on the scale,” he said. “He can direct the agencies where they have to spend the money, and he can favor some programs over other programs, even within a single line item.”

What’s fascinating about this issue is that normal folks can’t listen in: you’ve either got to pay for a subscription to Defense Daily, or become a member of the group where Cooney spoke – the Professional Services Council, a group of government contractors – to learn what he had to say. Both walls suggest big money is involved. No one wants mere taxpayers poking around.