By Adam Levine
It's the "meat ax" hanging over the Pentagon, to borrow a colorful phrase from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. It's so fearsome it could end America's position as a global power, said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So what is the Department of Defense doing about this incredible threat? Hoping it goes away.
As unlikely as it sounds, defense officials insist that aside from trying to convince Congress to stop it, the Pentagon is not planning for a possible $500 billion more in imposed cuts to the defense budget over the next decade that could begin to take effect at the end of the year. That would be on top of the half a billion dollars it is already planning to cut back over the next ten year.
The cuts, referred to as sequestration, are a result of the inability of Congress and the president to agree on a deficit reduction plan. Some workarounds have been proposed to limit the impact on the military but the White House has dismissed those as avoiding actual deficit reduction and want the threat of the trigger to remain in the hopes everyone will come to their senses and agree on a reduction plan.
Still, hoping politicians come to their senses hardly seems like a winning strategy. So why isn't the Pentagon getting ready for what Chairman Martin Dempsey says is an "unacceptable risks to our national security"? Because they were told not to, Panetta told the House Committee on the Budget this week.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, asked the secretary of defense whether they were ordered not to by the president. Below, the exchange about why the Obama administration thinks not thinking about it is the best way forward:
HUELSKAMP: Secretary Panetta, you talked earlier (inaudible) about the sequester. And of course the president of the United States did sign that deal that included that, yet there's no provisions in your budget to implement a sequester.
Did the president direct you to ignore that particular law?
PANETTA: The position of OMB was that we are not to plan for sequester at this time. And that's the direction we've been given and that's what we're doing.
HUELSKAMP: Is that normal, to simply ignore a law that could have pretty drastic consequences, by refusing to plan for that law? PANETTA: Well, I mean, as we pointed out, this is pretty unusual, to have a sequester mechanism. I mean, the point of it from the very beginning was to be so drastic and so insane that it would force the Congress to do what's right and come up with the deficit reduction package. That was - that's the whole purpose of sequester. It wasn't - I don't think Congress intended sequester to actually happen, to be truthful.
HUELSKAMP: Well, yeah. But, again, Mr. Secretary...
PANETTA: I mean, it was supposed to be a gun at your head.
HUELSKAMP: ... I asked the question, did the president direct you to ignore the sequester or...
PANETTA: The president...
HUELSKAMP: ... do that yourself?
PANETTA: The president didn't direct me. We basically got directions from OMB to basically not plan for sequester, particularly after coming up with $500 billion in deficit reduction.
HUELSKAMP: When would you plan to plan for the sequester, indeed, if the president - and the president's involved here. It's not just Congress, obviously. The president would have to sign a plan that would suspend that. You just hoping that that will never happen? I mean, is that what we're doing here?
PANETTA: Well, I would - I would hope that you would hope it would never happen.
HUELSKAMP: OK. I appreciate the - there is no answer. Apparently there is no plan for that. The law is very clear, whether the president liked it or not. He signed it, and on recommendation, I presume, of the advisers.