The US government shut down is unlikely to end anytime soon, offering Pentagon leaders time to reconsider their budgetary future.
The Congressional sideshow that prompted the shutdown will be nothing in comparison to the coming battle to raise America’s borrowing limit, which is essential to keeping it from defaulting on its debt for the first time in history.
Those who believe such a default can be managed, or that it might yield beneficial results, are living in a dangerous alternate reality.
Just flirting with default in 2011 prompted a downgrade in the US credit rating, which in turn instantly cost Americans and others trillions of dollars in lost wealth. An actual default would trigger a catastrophic global economic meltdown that would shatter US strategic credibility and interests worldwide.
Another debt farce could also increase US borrowing costs, further pressuring government spending overall, and defense spending in particular
Clearly, then, defense spending and entitlements will be bargaining chips in any debt deal. While government spending is flat, long-term reforms and additional cuts will be needed to reduce the deficit.
The reality is, even with sequestration — and adjusted for inflation — DoD spending is still $75 billion dollars higher than historic cyclical bottoms over the last four cycles. And if there’s one thing politicians know, it’s where to find money if they need it.
That’s trouble for a Pentagon already struggling to come up with $52 billion in cuts over the coming fiscal year, which means defense leaders must stop hoping lawmakers will give them relief and get ready for another stick up.
Top civilian and military leaders must sequester themselves, with staffs sliding an endless stream of pizzas under a locked door, and map a future for the US military rather than leave it to a dysfunctional and nonstrategic political process.