Defense Cuts, More Around the Cliff — Add That, `Budgeteers’

Photograph by Aaron M. Sprecher/Bloomberg

A U.S. military transportation vehicle at the Port of Beaumont upon return from deployment overseas.

Don’t forget about the other sequester.

While all eyes are on the so-called fiscal cliff, a second round of automatic spending cuts, one that will carve $11 billion out of the Pentagon’s budget, is set to kick in shortly after Congress quits for the year.

That’s because lawmakers spent too much on the Pentagon when they passed a so-called continuing resolution that’s now funding the federal government.

As part of last year’s deal to raise the debt limit, lawmakers agreed to cap defense spending this year at $546 billion. They stipulated that, if Congress exceeded that, the difference would automatically be eliminated. Lawmakers then proceeded to ignore all of that when they passed in September the stopgap funding measure, which provided, at an annualized rate, $557 billion for the Pentagon.

So the law orders $11 billion in defense cuts within 15 days of Congress adjourning for the year. That would come on top of the $55 billion defense cuts already slated to begin taking effect Jan. 2 if lawmakers cannot resolve their impasse over the cliff.

“Why would Congress and the president agree to a CR that provides a level of $557 billion for defense, only to have that decision reversed by a sequester that must be carried out three months later?” asked a memo by the Republican staff of the Senate Budget Committee. “One can only guess that Congress and the president intend to maintain that $557 billion level by turning the sequester off before it can happen, by enacting another law sometime during the lame duck.”

The memo adds: “So budgeteers, add that to the to-do list for the lame duck.”

 

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