Debt deal: Is the Pentagon the biggest loser?

The GOP wouldn't bend on taxes, but it made concessions on defense cuts — causing foreign-policy hawks to fret over a potentially weakened military

A U.S. Army National Guardsman at the U.S.-Mexico border
(Image credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

One of the biggest surprises in the final debt deal was that Republicans agreed to "triggered" defense spending cuts, a concession that helped them hold the line against proposed tax-revenue increases. How would such cuts be triggered? Easy: If Congress can't agree to a package of specific deficit reductions this fall (the savings must be enacted by December 23), automatic across-the-board cuts will go into effect, and the Pentagon, which already planned to cut $400 billion over the next 12 years, will be hit hardest — losing hundreds of billions of additional dollars over the next decade. Is this welcome news, or would the military be irrevocably damaged?

Gutting the Pentagon is reckless: This "establishes a terrible precedent," says William Kristol at The Weekly Standard. The military's budget isn't just another "pot of money to be slashed" if Congress can't agree on how to further reduce the deficit. If the automatic cuts kick in, the Pentagon will be out another $500 billion it can't afford to lose. Let's hope that the GOP's 2012 presidential candidate campaigns "on a platform of re-doing this deal."

"Bolton speaks"

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Actually, it's about time we reined in defense spending: Putting defense on the table was the Right's only big concession in this debt deal, says Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast, but it might be the "most significant" part of the agreement. "Finally, the always-expanding, always-pre-eminent Pentagon will not be immune from the new austerity." Of course, we'll never close the deficit without finding new revenue, somewhere, but this is "not that bad a bargain to be wrung from the opposition, given their manic state."

"The beginning, not the end"

Deficit hawks have only themselves to blame: "The pro-defense conservatives who cheered and cheered as Tea Party Republicans were awarded veto power over GOP decision-making have completely outfoxed themselves," says David Frum at FrumForum. The Republican hawks should have known better — refusing to allow additional revenues but insisting on big discretionary spending cuts "is not a hospitable climate for a robust defense budget." If GOP politicians don't like what this means for our security, it's their own fault.

"Too soon old, too late wise"

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