Defense Budgets: The “Drole de Guerre”

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Huntington Ignalls / Chris Oxley

The first piece (weighing 800 tons) of the flight deck for the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford moves into place April 7 at a Virginia shipyard. Structural work on the $12 billion carrier is now 75% complete.

The next seven months is going to be fun for bloggers, journalists, and other remnants of the chattering class, but it won’t shed much truth.  Wait until November for that. The latest rounds have been fired this week. The “phony war” part was posted by House Armed Services Committee chairman — and prophet of doom — Buck McKeon, R-Calif., whose staff worst-cased and low-balled every thing in sight to argue that a sequester would be a disaster for defense.

In truth, it would take some adjusting, though everything depends on how OMB would define the application of a sequester and nobody — including the armed services committee majority staff — knows what that definition will be. So spare yourself the shivers when you read the HASC staff view. And let’s be clear: even the worst case would leave the American military with a capability that exceeds anybody else in the world for decades to come (yes, that includes China), including the size of the Navy.

People tend to forget that the U.S. Navy in 1922 was so large we were one of the greatest naval powers in the world, and hosted the Washington Naval Conference to restrain the world’s navies.  (The others – the UK, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, kind of dropped off the radar screen after World War II and we sit alone in the blue water today).

While McKeon fights a verbal battle over the defense budget up there in the air, the other war continues on the ground.  We are not going to get a budget any time soon.  Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., of the House Budget Committee fired his artillery a few weeks ago, with a resolution that restored an amazing $5 billion (1%) to defense from the President’s request, but proposed leveling most domestic budgets to pay for it.

Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., fired back two days ago, proposing deeper cuts to defense (about $720 billion over the next 10 years from the Administration’s FY 2012 projection – we are working our way slowly to the $1 trillion I expect to happen.) But he declined to bring his overall budget to a vote, knowing it would fail in committee.

The Administration fired its own shot Wednesday with a letter from acting OMB Director Jeff Zients, who said the Ryan budget cut domestic spending more deeply than Ryan, and the Republicans, agreed to in the August 2011 Budget Control Act deal. The Administration, he said, would not sign any appropriations acts that would break that agreement.  Of course, since we will probably get Continuing Resolutions until after the election, he probably won’t have to deliver on that promise.

Such fun.  Kick back, enjoy the air show and the ground battle.  Expect no resolution until November.