There is very little chance of reversing the $486 billion in reductions over 10 years that are already planned for the U.S. defense budget, the influential chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said at a hearing Feb. 28.
In fact, said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., “We are going to have to find more savings in the core defense budget. We cannot afford an open checkbook any more.”
Conrad is working on a 2013 budget guideline he expects to unveil in April. That blueprint won’t be binding; it will serve only as a guide because the Senate has failed to pass a formal federal budget plan in each of the past three years, although the Budget Control Act of 2011 did include budget agency spending caps. Senate leaders have no current plans to schedule a vote on Conrad’s blueprint this year.
Republican lawmakers have talked about raising defense spending while cutting more deeply into non-defense programs. But Conrad — while not indicating what level of defense spending he might endorse — said he views the military as doing well in comparison with cuts in other federal programs.
Defense spending “has grown dramatically and is a contributing factor in the debt,” Conrad said “We simply will not be able to remain a global superpower if we do not stop the explosion of debt.”
The core defense budget — excluding war-related funds — has been flat since 2010, Conrad said, while non-defense discretionary spending has dropped.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the budget committee’s ranking Republican, said federal entitlement programs are the area of big growth, not defense. From 2008 to 2011, Medicare spending increased by 37 percent while defense spending increased by just 10 percent, he said. Even completely eliminating defense spending would not resolve the debt crisis, he said.