Advancing a Free Society

The President's Clandestine Defense Cuts

Friday, June 10, 2011

Because President Obama will not submit his Libya war choices to Congressional oversight, the Pentagon is being required to absorb a reduction of $60 million per month in its budget.  For a White House eager to further cut defense spending, it is an opportunity to force reductions without having to submit a budget for Congressional review.  For the Pentagon, it will create havoc in the defense program as the Secretary has to delay or reduce budgeted spending to reprogram money to operations.

The Financial Times has revealed DOD’s internal calculations; the figures have been provided to Congress by the Pentagon.  Because the Constitution gives to Congress the power to raise armies and maintain navies, DOD cannot refuse reporting requirements.  It’s one of the most important differences between the structure of our democracy and that of parliamentary systems.  In parliamentary systems, the opposition parties can be kept ignorant; in ours, Executive departments can be compelled to provide information whether or not it supports the President’s policies.

The Pentagon is understandably unhappy about absorbing the $664 million price of operations.  Secretary Gates is reportedly resigned to that because the President dare not take his policy to Congress for approval.  To quote the Secretary of Defense, “in the case of Libya, unfortunately, we’re fundamentally having to eat that one.”  All of which is insult to injury for the Secretary and our military leaders, since they opposed the operation in the first place.

The White House claims it is complying with the War Powers Resolution because it has consulted with members of Congress; the growing restiveness of both Republicans and Democrats at the President flouting the law indicates that approach will be inadequate.  Substantively, the White House has attempted to claim the restrictions of War Powers should not apply to military operations in Libya because the U.S. is playing only a supporting role.

Just how much of a supporting role is also revealed by the DOD memo: the U.S. has 75 aircraft committed to the NATO operation, has flown 2,600 sorties, of which 600 have been combat.  We continue to fly 27% of the total missions in the NATO operation -- more than any other country.  In addition, our military is providing the essential enablers for the entire coalition, flying 70% of the reconaissance operations and 75% of refueling.  The White House has no basis for avoiding Congressional authorization.

Under the table cuts like these being imposed on DOD by the White House are the worst way to reduce defense spending.  They require the Pentagon to slide money from programmed uses, causing underfunding that slows procurement and drives up unit costs.  For example, the Navy buys around 198 missiles each year of the kind being used in Libya; to date, we have expended 228 of them in the Libya campaign.  The Navy will not be reimbursed for those missiles, much less given the money to surge production lines to rush replacement missiles into the fleet.

President Obama complains often about all the burdens he inherited from the previous administration.  One of the great benefits he inherited is an American military far and away superior to any other.  The choices President Obama is making about war powers and cuts to defense spending will leave our military less capable than when he became Commander in Chief.

(photo credit: Raquel Camarg0)