The Debt Deal's Defense Cuts: A Win for Libertarians?

Nate Silver of The New York Times thinks libertarians might like the debt deal’s cuts to (projected increases in!) defense spending:

The first round of cuts will include $350 billion in defense savings, while the second round would include between $500 and $600 billion in defense cuts if no bipartisan agreement is reached.

...In fact, if you’re a Democrat (or a libertarian) who is not just indifferent toward defense cuts but actually in favor of them, you might even regard the cuts to defense spending as a “win,” making up for the “loss” incurred from cuts to other types of discretionary spending.

Indeed, people of the libertarian persuasion might be even more amenable to this arrangement than Democrats, as they likely wouldn’t be upset by the “loss” from other types of spending.

But libertarians are also a skeptical people, and in this case, there's good reason to be. Overall, as Christopher Preble explains, we’re looking at a maximum of about $850 billion in cuts to projected defense spending—and that’s only if the debt deal trigger kicks in, which is no sure thing. But let’s say the commission’s deficit reduction proposal dies on arrival in Congress and the trigger goes into full effect. As Preble points out, the ensuing reduction would involve spending just 15 percent less than what the defense department planned to spend in its most recent budget—and that doesn’t even factor in the cost of the wars. Nor are those reductions in any way guaranteed to stick:

And remember, that $850 billion is a maximum; it may not materialize. It will be lower, if, as hawks hope, the cuts fall on the non-defense elements of the security category. It will be lower if the Joint Committee finds other accounts to cut, avoiding the triggers. The Pentagon’s budget has more than doubled over the past decade, and current projections call for the Pentagon to receive more than $6 trillion from U.S. taxpayers through 2021. If its budget got cut by 15 percent, that would return us to roughly 2007 levels. That hardly seems like “gutting“. After such cuts, we would still account for more than 40 percent of global military spending.

Still, it’s not impossible that the debt deal trigger gets pulled, which would put the nation on the path toward larger defense cuts. If Silver is correct that the triggered cuts are designed to appease Democrats by skewing heavily toward the Pentagon budget, then legislators on team-D may not have much reason to vote for the commission’s deficit recommendations unless the package includes additional tax revenue. Yet it’s pretty safe to say that Republicans aren’t going to support a package with any new or higher taxes. In that case, Silver argues, the deal “probably leads us to a stalemate: Democrats cannot do much better [than the trigger] unless there are tax increases, and Republicans will not be eager to raise taxes.” And thus the trigger gets pulled.

As Phil Klein and Mike Riggs suggested earlier, that means that another way of looking at this is that the deal potentially pits Republicans against themselves by forcing party legislators to choose between raising taxes and paring back planned defense spending. I’m on record as being skeptical that the Republican party, as a whole, is ever likely to favor even moderate reductions in defense spending, and it's already clear that the party's top hawks are deeply opposed to the way the deal would handle the military budget. Still, given the influence of new House members who may (and only may) not be quite as determined to protect defense pork, I think it’s at least somewhat unclear at this point whether defending the defense budget or attacking new taxes is the more important current priority for the GOP. And there lies the potential upside for folks opposed to spending inside and outside the Pentagon: If Republicans make the choice to refuse new taxes rather than preserve defense spending—and, then, in an even bigger if, stick to it in coming years—well, that would be a real win for libertarians, even if the spending reductions themselves are only moderate in scope. 

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If libertarians are terrorists, then yes, the libertarians have won.

  • jacob||

    Yes, terrorists have won, because the Dept of Defense has done such a bang up job of preventing terrorism, if you throw out that one thing that happened in Sep. 2002, or was it 2001?

    The statist meme is always the same, regardless of what their team color is. The Dept of Education has failed to advance this country's level of education when compared with other developed countries, yet all we hear is how much more money is needed for education.

  • SIV||

    Another way of looking at this, then, is that the deal potentially pits Republicans against themselves by forcing party legislators to choose between raising taxes and paring back planned defense spending.

    This is the only good thing in the "deal"

  • ||

    Fer crissakes, stop pretending there are any cuts, or reductions to the rate of increase, or any of that shit, in this deal.

    Even the microscopic cuts in the FY 2012 budget are subject to approval when Congress passes appropriations for 2012.

    These are more accurately described as an expression of earnest hope that future Congresses will try to restrain themselves.

  • ||

    Even the microscopic cuts in the FY 2012 budget are subject to approval when Congress passes appropriations for 2012.

    Actually, the agreement says that it will deem as passed a Senate budget resolution for FY2012 matching the numbers in the agreement. Same for FY2013 as well. That was something Leader Reid really wanted, to avoid Senators having to agree.

    The approprations bills have to follow the budget resolution, so the initial trivial savings will happen.

  • ||

    Senate gets to avoid having to actually go on record with a budget.

  • ||

    How's that any different than the last two years?

  • ||

    In that it counts as though the Senate passed a budget resolution with the numbers in the agreement for FY12 and FY13. That means that instead of a CR that could theoretically contain anything, any expenditure above the level in the agreement is subject to a budget point of order which requires 60 votes to overcome.

    So instead of getting to a Continuing Resolution, they're going to do the "normal" budget process having sort of pretended the first step. That's how it's different.

  • MNG||

    While the rest of us are looking at porn JT is poring over Senate records...

  • ||

    Strangely enough, the filter at work lets the Senate records through but not the other.

  • MNG||

    Doesn't allow House records?

    I guess they are pretty nasty...

  • ||

    Yeah, all those weird diseases that aren't lupus.

  • Gray Ghost||

    I am grateful for his diligence with parliamentary procedure and his posts explaining same.

    While I find it excruciatingly dull, it is true that, "Even though you may take no interest in politics, this will not stop politics from taking an interest in you." Pericles, by way of Pournelle.

  • ||

    In other words, 50+1 vote reconciliation is out for spending more than in the agreement.

  • ||

    Check out Section 106:

    (1) For the purpose of enforcing the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 through April 15, 2012, including section 300 of that Act, and enforcing budgetary points of order in prior concurrent resolutions on the budget, the allocations, aggregates, and levels set in subsection (b)(1) shall apply in the Senate in the same manner as for a concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2012 with appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2011 and 2013 through 2021.

    Paragraph (2) is the same thing for FY2013.

  • ||

    Thanks, John. That helps.

  • ||

    You're welcome.

    So the FY12 and 13 cuts are as certain as anything gets. After that, all bets are off, of course.

    My takeaway from this is that the Democrats really, really want the budget, deficits, and spending to not be an election issue. That was pretty much their major win, both Presidential (debt ceiling) and Senate (budget resolution votes).

    One thing to watch for is who Boehner's three on the committee are and who McConnell's are. Considering 1994-2000, never say never for enough of the GOP caucus splitting to get defense cuts.

  • ||

    I see that the 2012 and 2013 reductions total around $10BB.

    We're saved!

  • ||

    Nope, but it is slightly better than digging a hole as faster as we were.

    About as good as one could expect, given the Senate and President. Still have to come back for more later to get something real.

    If there were another couple dozen Rand Pauls in the Senate, then we might be able to get something.

  • ||

    The numbers I saw were about $20B for 2012 and $40B for 2013. Again, not enough, but most of the way towards Ryan's numbers (which, again, were not enough), and better than I expected coming into this showdown.

  • adam||

    Until they pass a budget resolution that says something else.

  • Joe M||

    As we've already figured out, this is a bunch of fabricated bullshit that doesn't cut anything, so it really doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is something that lays out actual decreases in spending year over year.

  • ||

    By not invading Canada, we can reduce the deficit by at least $795 billion. This is a win for everyone, especially Canadians.

  • Restoras||

    But if we invade Canada we can rape the countryside for the natural resources for the Chinese, and payoff a portion of our debt. Win-Win!

  • ||

    We'd just get bogged down with a Québécois insurgence.

  • MNG||

    Could their be any less intimidating military force than a French-Canadian one? What, will they gradually surrender?

  • SIV||

    What will they gradually surrender?

    Baby harp seal pelts and casks of government-subsidized maple syrup?

  • ||

    Yeah, there's just nothing funnier than a French joke. Haha. Unless it's a French-Canadian joke, eh?

    The Royal 22e Régiment is one of the most celebrated fighting units in the world.

    Canada's civilian leadership might seem like a bunch of pussies but they still have a strong military tradition that persists in spite of a lack of public support.

  • Achtung Coma Baby||

    I kinda want this "neutron bomb" thingy to go off. Partly for the extra defense "cuts" that will result, and partly to see how how in the fuck it would be similar to a neutron bomb.

  • MNG||

    Is it a Jimmy Neutron bomb? Cuz I hate that show.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Any debt ceiling deal that leaves a smoking crater where Washington DC used to be will be a win for all Americans. Not to mention Afghanis,Iraqia, and Libyans.

  • ||

    Especially fans of Fallout 3.

  • Hugh Akston||

    President Eden FTW!

  • lol||

    sequestration will never happen

  • ||

    In other news, what will REALLY happen:

    Raise taxes, raise spending, put heads into sand.

  • MNG||

    Wouldn't it be more accurate to call them cuts in offense, given how we use it?

  • ||

    Just imagine if Kucinich had his way, then we'd have an Orwellian Department of Peace waging war on other countries.

  • MNG||

    We should have a Rooseveltian Department of Talking Softly and a Department of Big Stick Carrying.

  • ||

    I think we never should have changed from the War Department, it was more honest and also easier to get cuts that way.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    That would be State and Defense.

    I agree with JT, though. It should never have been renamed from War.

  • cynical||

    Depends, are we cutting the army and drone budgets?

  • Hugh Akston||

    It doesn't count as hostilities if only their guys are getting shot at.

  • MNG||

    And SHAME on a libertarian site for having a photo of a Hawk and Dove eatery instead of a reference to Steve Ditko's Hawk and Dove. Shame.

    This would never have happened with Jesse Walker!

  • d'Statist of my minds eye||

    ::wipes white powder off nose::

    Now, you see this week we were spending five large every day on coke, and last week we was spending four large, so....

    ::sniffs::

    ...if we only spend five and half large next week we're saving P bucks every day!

    Hot damn guys, we can get a hooker!

  • d'Statist of my minds eye||

    P = 500, of course.

  • ||

    So long as the Departments of Education, Labor, Commerce and Energy still exist there should be little to no cuts within the Defense budget.

    Frankly we should cut down to Defense, Justice and State. The rest are nothing more than jobs programs...

  • Virginia||

    Just to be on the safe side, we should cut them all to ribbons.

  • cynical||

    Nah, I'm fine with cutting Justice.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I'd be okay with cutting it after we inform the DC SWAT team that there is pot hidden in a house that turns out to belong to Eric Holder.

  • ||

    This. I've never quite understood the obsession here with cutting defense budgets. There are so many other areas that have absolutely no business getting any funding at all, and it seems like defense, which actually has some degree of constitutional legitimacy (I'll concede that the Pentagon is ridiculously bloated) and necessity (I'll concede nothing on this) gets an inordinate amount of attention when calls for cuts are made.

    Is this a result of libertarians showing a rare streak of political pragmatism, seeing that most of the welfare and regulation state is nearly untouchable with so few representatives willing to risk the backlash from welfare-slave voters whereas the entire Left is solidly in favor of gutting defense, or do libertarians view cuts in defense spending as more desirable than other areas?

    Just to give a brief overview of my opinions on defense, hopefully forestalling misconceptions and the putting of words into my mouth (onto my fingers?): ME wars? Useless; we'd be better off with a reactionary, quick, and brutal total war approach supported by long-term intelligence efforts in the area than with this drawn-out occupation and COIN. Libya? Why the hell are we there, anyway? Bases around the world? There are a number of smaller bases that serve little purpose, but major bases are strategic investments against the cost, in blood and money, of building up in a region or depending upon the goodwill of local states (hah) when we need projection capability. Standing army? A sad necessity. Look at how long it took the Marine Corps to pull itself back together after the gutting of the NCO ranks back around Viet Nam and tell me if you think a militia force would be able to reach the necessary level of discipline, skill, and leadership needed to repel a determined invasion force. Throw in the vastly-increased needs of defending infrastructure, to boot. Military research? See previous, iron vs bronze, firearms vs bows & spears, etc. Plus, military research tends to produce things of use outside defense. There is so much that could be done to streamline and trim down the development and acquisitions process, though.

    Random comment: I'd like to see the return of the draft where everyone not medically disqualified goes in at 18 or after completing high-school, whichever comes later. Set up a two-tier system in which draftees (2 years) are limited in possible jobs (mostly those requiring considerable training) and advancement (more of a soft cap in the vein of them simply not having time to progress into the NCO ranks) while volunteers (4 years) have no such limitations, but no other distinction is made between the two groups. Volunteers will start at the same level and take the same crap as draftees, but the NCO and officer ranks would be composed wholly of volunteers who are there because they want to be.

  • Mongo||

    Gee, you mean we'ed have to hesitate - and maybe even have to choose not to invade random countries to defend our's and everyone else's "Interests"?

    Some might see that as feature and not a bug.

  • NJ||

    Uh, much of what counts as defense spending qualifies as jobs programs.

  • jasno||

    Does it even matter? I mean, really, does anyone think that reality will let us continue with the current level of spending for more than a few more years? We're going broke. We can realize that today, or wait a few more years. But, sometime soon, it seems that the party is going to end and we're going to see a federal government that is significantly smaller than the one we suffer with today.

  • Joshua R. Poulson||

    The Media is calling this a big victory for a tea party for two reasons: 1) it lowers the expectations for any measures attempted by the tea party later, 2) when this drop in the bucket fails miserably, the tea party gets the blame.

    And, yes, everyone will work to make it fail miserably. Already we hear the Super Committee actually can raise taxes after all...

  • ||

    Before you get too excited about any defense spending caps, read Title I, §101(b)(2)(A)(ii). It provides that any appropriation earmarked for "Overseas Contingency Operations/Global War on Terrorism" automatically triggers an equal increase in the defense spending cap. In other words, there is no cap on defense spending.

  • ---||

    i agree

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