“Defense Secretary Robert Gates Thursday told Congress the administration is seeking $78 billion in cuts to the Defense budget over the next five years on top of $100 billion in efficiencies.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said after the morning briefing that he was deeply concerned about the surprising depth of the spending cuts. McKeon said he had gone into the meeting expecting to oppose the plan to trim $100 billion in waste when Gates announced the additional $78 billion in reductions.
“We are fighting two wars, you have China, you have Iran: Is this the time to be making these types of cuts?” McKeon said.
The depth of the cuts exceeded that predicted by defense analysts and appear to show the seriousness with which the White House is pursuing deficit reduction. Analysts had expected the approximately $80 billion in savings returned to the Treasury to come out of the $100 billion in savings Gates was seeking.”
Just to make sure it’s clear, $100 billion of the savings sought by Gates would be kept within the Defense Department and used for other defense purposes. The additional $78 billion over five years would be actual reductions in projected spending. (And again, just for clarity’s sake, the cuts are in projected spending — actual Defense spending would rise slightly and then level out over the next five years.)
I think the only way to understand this move is as the opening gambit of a series of budget-cutting, deficit-reducing proposals by the Obama administration. I don’t see it being reported that way yet, but it makes sense. The president is not going to make cutting defense his only or even his major deficit-reducing effort. Between now and his State of the Union address, I suspect we’ll see a string of similar announcements, so that he can tell the American people that he is doing his part to close the deficit and challenging the Republicans to do the same.
For example, the Gates proposal calls for “modest increases” in the amount that working-age veterans pay for health care through the government’s TriCare program, noting that such fees haven’t been raised since 1995. That makes sense, but it suggests that similar or greater increases will be proposed for civilian contributions to federal health-care programs, including perhaps for federal employees.
Again, this is all just conjecture on my part. But it’s the only thing that makes sense.