About two dozen U.S. House lawmakers are urging President Obama to place new Pentagon budget cuts on the table as the White House and congressional leaders seek to avoid fiscal calamity.
The call by 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats came in a Dec. 10 letter to Obama just a few weeks before $500 billion in cuts to a handful of non-exempt Pentagon accounts would kick in if Obama and Congress fail to agree on a massive deficit-reduction plan.
In the letter, the lawmakers “express bipartisan support for including defense savings in any final budget agreement.”
They state they oppose the manner in which those $500 billion in cuts would be carried out, through a process known as sequestration.
“We have serious concerns about the careless and arbitrary way that sequestration reduces defense spending, but we support its general intent to improve our fiscal condition,” the lawmakers write. “We believe that substantial defense savings can be achieved over the long-term, without compromising national security, through strategic reductions in the Pentagon’s budget.”
The Defense Department budget, if bills pending in Congress are approved, would be about $650 billion. That would cover the base defense budget and war spending for fiscal 2013.
The letter cites studies conducted by think tanks “across the political spectrum” that suggest additional cuts to planned Pentagon spending.
The recommendations of those studies, the lawmakers tell Obama, “would responsibly achieve defense savings over the next decade.”
Several think tank studies, including work done by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and the Bipartisan Policy Center, show that even with sequestration, annual defense spending would reach $600 billion later this decade following a two-year dip.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., recently released his own study detailing nearly $100 billion in cuts he says should be made to the Pentagon’s annual budget.
The think tank plans show how the Pentagon could “save up to $550 billion without harming U.S. national security,” the lawmakers write. “In fact, achieving defense savings as part of the larger effort to reduce the national debt will go a 1ong way toward bolstering U.S. national security.”
The letter, signed by Republicans such as Armed Services Committee member Rep. Chris Gibson, N.Y., Rep. Tim McClintock, N.C., and House Appropriations Defense subcommittee member James Moran, Va., is the latest sign of GOP members willing to trade more defense cuts to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.
Economists say economic chaos would occur if Obama and lawmakers fail by year’s end to extend a slew of tax cuts while also allowing twin $500 billion, 10-year cuts to planned defense and domestic spending to kick in.
On the Senate side, Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, S.C., and others are refusing to rule out additional Pentagon cuts.
An increasing number of Republicans say they might support a level of defense cuts smaller than the $500 billion called for under sequestration in order to get to the $1.2 trillion target that would void the sequester cuts.
With more and more Republican lawmakers crossing the defense cuts Rubicon, it could become easier for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to strike a deal with Obama and congressional Democratic leaders.
The letter also bears the signatures of Democrats such as Rep. Keith Ellison, Minn., Lynn Woolsey, Calif., and Barney Frank, Mass.
“The Pentagon’s budget has increased dramatically over the last decade, due in large part to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the bipartisan group tells the president.
“As we transition from wartime to peacetime, and as we confront our nation’s fiscal challenges, future defense budgets should reflect the conclusion of these wars and acknowledge that our modern military is able to approach conflicts utilizing fewer but more advanced resources,” states the letter. “Congress must consider these changes, not past spending or percentages of GDP, and move toward defense budgeting that focuses on meeting specific military requirements.”