House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced the outlines of a possible Republican budget plan last week, and the big winner was the Pentagon. Even as McCarthy called for a freeze in the federal discretionary budget at Fiscal Year 2022 levels as a condition for raising the debt ceiling – a move that he promised Freedom Caucus members when they grudgingly supported his election as speaker in January – he signaled that the Department of Defense would not be impacted.
But since the Pentagon and work on nuclear weapons at the Department of Energy account for over half of all discretionary spending, McCarthy’s approach would require draconian cuts in domestic programs – up to 27 percent, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. If the plan also protects veterans health care – a question McCarthy has been vague about – cuts to all other discretionary programs would rise to 33 percent. Cuts on this scale will be opposed by virtually all Democrats, and likely some Republicans as well. Even so, the fact that they are being used as a bargaining chip for further negotiations is stunning.
Given how it is structured, McCarthy’s proposal dashes the hopes of advocates of reining in the Pentagon’s bloated budget, while prompting a sigh of relief from the Pentagon, its contractors, and their allies in Congress. When the idea of a budget freeze first surfaced, advocates and opponents of high Pentagon spending alike suggested that the freeze could lead to a cut of $75 to $100 billion in the Department of Defense budget from current levels. But this would only occur if – a big if – the proposed cuts were distributed equally across the board.
As I noted in an earlier column, some Republicans who were promoting the budget freeze rushed to twitter and the media to deny that their plan would have any impact on the Department of Defense. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said that defense was never discussed in the deliberations over the Speaker vote. All Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) could come up with in terms of potential cuts were the Pentagon’s alleged “woke agenda” and an oversized officer corps – moves that would be lucky to save a tiny fraction – perhaps 1 or 2 percent – of the amount approved for the Pentagon and nuclear weapons work at the Department of Energy for this year.
Read the full piece in Forbes.