War Spending as Sequester Replacement? Just Don't Do It

With news yesterday that the Senate might consider a bill to replace the sequester for 2013 with a drawdown of war spending, CRFB reacted in a press release, decrying the gimmick for what it is. The bill would specifically put caps on war spending for FY 2014 through 2016 at the levels called for the President's budget -- drawing down war funding from $97 billion this year to $37 billion in FY 2016. Since these caps would only codify existing plans to draw down the wars, they would not represent new deficit reduction. Claiming that they would generate new savings would be incorrect.

Compared to current law, it would "save" about $145 billion in budget authority in those three years. Compared to the CBO drawdown scenario, it would be budget-neutral over those three years, with a slower drawdown in the first year but a more rapid drawdown in the next two years.

This bill is not only concerning because it's a gimmick, but it would replace a policy meant to prompt real savings (i.e. the sequester) with phantom savings. The sequester was meant to be an action-forcing mechanism for policymakers to enact real deficit reduction. If policymakers are only willing to replace the sequester with fake savings, they should simply leave it in place. As CRFB president Maya MacGuineas said yesterday:

The purpose of the sequester was for lawmakers to force themselves to agree on deficit reduction, and replacing it with these phony savings would undermine their credibility...Instead of expending energy trying to game the system, Members of Congress and the White House should continue the productive discussions that have started recently about how to come together on a larger package to put the debt on a downward path.

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