Pro-defense Republicans already are looking ahead to the next Congress to use their party's newfound legislative power to boost the Pentagon budget, pointing to the wear and tear on the military after nearly a decade of war and the need to hedge against a multitude of future threats. But fiscal hawks within the party are focusing like a laser on reducing the deficit, and they insist nothing should be off the table - not even the defense budget, which makes up half of all federal discretionary spending.
Underscoring the need to reduce the deficit is President Obama's own bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, whose chairmen released a proposal last week that called for slashing $100 billion out of the Pentagon's budget in 2015. This includes a 15 percent cut in procurement, a 10 percent cut in research and development, a freeze on noncombat military and civilian pay and closure of one-third of overseas bases. The proposal also would use $28 billion in Pentagon overhead cost savings projected for 2015 to pay down the deficit, rather than reinvesting that money in modernization and other priorities as Defense Secretary Robert Gates prefers. The total trimmed from force structure and modernization accounts alone would come to $55 billion.
How feasible would it be for lawmakers to make these kinds of cuts to defense? Is it easier politically for Republicans, with their strong support of the military, to slash Pentagon budgets? What kind of sway will fiscal hawks have in the next Congress - and will it be enough to push through sweeping defense cuts over the objections from pro-defense members of their party? And what role will progress made in Iraq and Afghanistan play in making defense cuts more palatable to lawmakers and the public?