Washington: The Pentagon email traffic is burning up with whispers that the White House has told the Pentagon to plan for an additional $100 billion in cuts for 2013.
The planning guidance was reportedly issued to insure that the Pentagon would be ready should the Super Congress fail to implement $1.2 trillion in cuts and trigger what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the “doomsday mechanism” of $500 billion in defense cuts. Panetta told reporters last week that he was not planning for any such cuts. OMB Director Jacob Lew issued a carefully worded memo yesterday:
In light of the tight limits on discretionary spending starting in 2012, your 2013 budget submission to OMB should provide options to support the President’s commitment to cut waste and reorder priorities to achieve deficit reduction while investing in those areas critical to job creation and economic growth. Unless your agency has been given explicit direction otherwise by OMB, your overall agency request for 2013 should be at least 5 percent below your 2011 enacted discretionary appropriation. As discussed at the recent Cabinet meetings, your 2013 budget submission should also identify additional discretionary funding reductions that would bring your request to a level that is at least 10 percent below your 2011 enacted discretionary appropriation.
I added the emphasis above because I think it likely that the Pentagon has received such direction.
Mackenzie Eaglen, defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation, wrote a piece earlier today positing just this. We hear her sources are good, but not located in the White House… UPDATED: Eaglen says she has confirmed the $100 billion figure.
Here’s what Eaglen said:
Rumor has it that the Administration’s accounting arm, the Office of Management and Budget, has issued fresh budgeting guidance to the Pentagon. That advice: assume a worst case scenario for defense budgets in 2013, and cut the topline by up to $100 billion.
Contingency planning is important, but in this instance, the Joint Chiefs must push back while clearly and loudly articulating the real-world costs, consequences, and risks. If true, the OMB directive would take military spending off a cliff with no guidance or strategic rationale. It gives Congress zero say until after the decision has already shoehorned defense spending into a faux “doomsday” budget scenario.
It’s interesting that Eaglen, who has consistently opposed large spending cuts along with many of her GOP colleagues, called on the Joint Chiefs to “push back.” This seems to assume that the cuts would have immediate and harmful operational consequences. It also seems to assume that the service chiefs would not salute smartly and plan away.