Although the possibility of a US military strike on Syria is now in question, the possibility has also led to public statements regarding the relationship between defense priorities and the budget.
Over the weekend, President Obama made his widely anticipated remarks on the conflict of Syria, making his case for taking military action against the Syrian regime in response to a chemical weapon attack a few weeks ago. He also stated that while he believed that he had the authority to take action himself, he would leave it up to Congress to vote on.
The sequester has always been a blunt and mindless way to reduce the deficit, and for the Defense Department, its effects are now clearly being seen. On Monday, the Defense Department began furloughs for its civilian workers, which will eventually affect more than 650,000 workers according to the Washington Post. Eleven furlough days are expected to be needed in order to meet targets or around one without pay per week until the end of September.
Although efforts to replace the sequester have been on hold for a while, the House Democrats, led by House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), have come out with a bill to replace the remaining 2013 and part of the 2014 sequester with $181 billion of savings over ten years. The bill is similar to one Rep.
Over the past few years, lawmakers have made the most progress in discretionary spending in the deficit reduction effort. Additional opportunities for finding efficiencies in the discretionary budget exist for defense and nondefense, but right now cuts are being done through sequestration, which imposes blunt, across-the-board reductions instead of targeting areas where resources could be allocated better.
It is a well-known fact that the U.S. spends a sizeable amount on defense, more than the next 15 countries combined, including China and Russia. But the Budget Control Act (BCA) discretionary spending caps will require the Pentagon to rein in spending levels, even if sequestration is replaced.
There has been a lot of talk about the sequester in recent weeks as the latest in a long line of fiscal stand-offs ensues in Washington. In FY 2013, the sequester will hit defense budget authority by $43 billion, non-defense discretionary budget authority by $26 billion, Medicare spending by $11 billion, and other mandatory spending by $5 billion.
Update: This post has been updated as of February 27, 2013 to reflect new proposals from the Senate Republicans
Recently, former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) was nominated to succeed Leon Panetta as the Secretary of Defense. He would likely be presented a challenge faced by his predecessors Panetta and Robert Gates: how to find savings in the Defense Department and help make it more fiscally responsible.