Washington is pushing the panic button, claiming austerity is hollowing out our armed forces and our national security is at risk. That was the message Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel delivered last week when he announced that the Army would shrink to levels not seen since before World War II. Headlines about this crisis followed in papers like the New York Timesand members of Congress issued statements swearing that they would never allow our security to be held hostage to the budget-cutting process.
Yet a careful look at budget figures for the U.S. military -- a bureaucratic juggernaut accounting for 57% of the federal discretionary budget and nearly 40% of all military spending on this planet -- shows that such claims have been largely fictional. Despite cries of doomsince the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration surfaced in Washington in 2011, the Pentagon has seen few actual reductions, and there is no indication that will change any time soon.
This piece of potentially explosive news has, however, gone missing in action -- and the “news” that replaced it could prove to be one of the great bait-and-switch stories of our time.
The Pentagon Cries Wolf, Round One
As sequestration first approached, the Pentagon issued deafening cries of despair. Looming cuts would “inflict lasting damage on our national defense and hurt the very men and women who protect this country,” said Secretary Hagel in December 2012.
Sequestration went into effect in March 2013 and was slated to slice $54.6 billion from the Pentagon’s $550 billion larger-than-the-economy-of-Sweden budget. But Congress didn’t have the stomach for it, so lawmakers knocked the cuts down to $37 billion. (Domestic programs like Head Start and cancer research received no such special dispensation.)
By law, the cuts were to be applied across the board. But that, too, didn’t go as planned. The Pentagon was able to do something hardly recognizable as a cut at all. Having the luxury ofunspent funds from previous budgets -- known obscurely as “prior year unobligated balances” -- officials reallocated some of the cuts to those funds instead.
In the end, the Pentagon shaved about 5.7%, or $31 billion, from its 2013 budget. And just how painful did that turn out to be? Frank Kendall, who serves as the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, has acknowledged that the Pentagon “cried wolf.” Those cuts caused no substantial damage, he admitted.
And that’s not where the story ends -- it’s where it begins.
Sequestration, the Phony Budget War, Round Two
A $54.6 billion slice was supposed to come out of the Pentagon budget in 2014. If that had actually happened, it would have amounted to around 10% of its budget. But after the hubbub over the supposedly devastating cuts of 2013, lawmakers set about softening the blow.
And this time they did a much better job.
In December 2013, a budget deal was brokered by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray. In it they agreed to reduce sequestration. Cuts for the Pentagon soon shrank to $34 billion for 2014.
And that was just a start.
All the cuts discussed so far pertain to what’s called the Pentagon’s “base” budget -- its regular peacetime budget. That, however, doesn’t represent all of its funding. It gets a whole different budget for making war, and for the 13th year, the U.S. is making war in Afghanistan. For that part of the budget, which falls into the Washington category of “Overseas Contingency Operations” (OCO), the Pentagon is getting an additional $85 billion in 2014.
And this is where something funny happens.
That war funding isn’t subject to caps or cuts or any restrictions at all. So imagine for a moment that you’re an official at the Pentagon -- or the White House -- and you’re committed to sparing the military from downsizing. Your budget has two parts: one that’s subject to caps and cuts, and one that isn’t. What do you do? When you hit a ceiling in the former, you stuff extra cash into the latter.
It takes a fine-toothed comb to discover how this is done. Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, found that the Pentagon was stashing an estimated extra $20 billion worth of non-war funding in the “operation and maintenance” accounts of its proposed 2014 war budget. And since all federal agencies work in concert with the White House to craft their budget proposals, it’s safe to say that the Obama administration was in on the game.
Add the December budget deal to this $20 billion switcheroo and the sequester cuts for 2014 were now down to $14 billion, hardly a devastating sum given the roughly $550 billion in previously projected funding.
And the story’s still not over.
When it was time to write the Pentagon budget into law, appropriators in Congress wanted in on the fun. As Winslow Wheeler of the Project on Government Oversight discovered, lawmakers added a $10.8 billion slush fund to the war budget.
All told, that leaves $3.4 billion -- a cut of less than 1% from Pentagon funding this year. It’s hard to imagine that anyone in the sprawling bureaucracy of the Defense Department will even notice. Nonetheless, last week Secretary Hagel insisted that “[s]equestration requires cuts so deep, so abrupt, so quickly that... the only way to implement [them] is to sharply reduce spending on our readiness and modernization, which would almost certainly result in a hollow force.”
Yet this less than 1% cut comes from a budget that, at last count, was the size of the next 10 largest military budgets on the planet combined. If you can find a threat to our national security in this story, your sleuthing powers are greater than mine. Meanwhile, in the non-military part of the budget, sequestration has brought cuts that actually matter to everything from public education to the justice system.
Cashing in on the “Cuts,” Round Three and Beyond
After two years of uproar over mostly phantom cuts, 2015 isn’t likely to bring austerity to the Pentagon either. Last December’s budget deal already reduced the cuts projected for 2015, and President Obama is now asking for something he’s calling the “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative.” It would deliver an extra $26 billion to the Pentagon next year. And that still leaves the war budget for officials to use as a cash cow.
And the president is proposing significant growth in military spending further down the road. In his 2015 budget plan, he’s asking Congress to approve an additional $115 billion in extra Pentagon funds for the years 2016-2019.
My guess is he’ll claim that our national security requires it after the years of austerity.
Washington, D.C.— Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee released the following statement regarding the President’s inclusion of chained CPI in his 2014 budget proposal. The chained CPI is a cost index which helps to calculate the cost of living adjustments for benefit levels.
Washington, D.C.— Today, on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, Congresswoman Barbara Lee delivered the following statement on the House floor:
Washington, D.C.— During a day-long mark up of the Ryan bill, as a member of the Budget Committee, Congresswoman Lee offered an amendment to eliminate the Overseas and Contingency Operations (OCO) account in order to provide transparency and accountability to war spending and to bring it back into the base Pentagon budget.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) is leading a small group of House Democrats in calling on President Barack Obama to release information regarding the Administration’s use of drone strikes.
Washington, D.C.— Today, Congresswoman Lee released the following statement regarding the FY2013 Continuing Resolution, Defense and Military Construction/VA Appropriations Bills:
“As a member of both the Appropriations and Budget Committee, I rise in strong opposition to this Continuing Resolution.
This week, all eyes are on Congress. Sequester is looming, and these indiscriminate cuts would not only hurt the poor first, but hurt them the most. Nearly 50 million of our neighbors — almost 16 million of them children — live in poverty; in the richest nation in the world, this is deplorable, unconscionable, but above all, solvable.
Washington, D.C.— In reaction to the passage of a bi-partisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, Congresswoman Barbara Lee issued the following statement:
Washington, D.C.— Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee joined Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer to launch the new Democratic Whip’s Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity.
Washington, D.C.— Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) highlighted a new report by the House Committee on Appropriations detailing the impact of the sequester, the broad, across the board cuts that would go into effect on March 1st if Congress does not act.
Washington, D.C.—Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced H.R. 808, the “Department of Peacebuilding Act of 2013” to create a cabinet-level Secretary and Department of Peacebuilding. The term “peacebuilding” refers both to activities that target the root causes of violence as well as the broad measures used to prevent violent conflict and create sustainable peace.
Washington, D.C.—Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee released the following statement in reaction to President Obama’s State of the Union Address to Congress:
Re "Obama agrees to release files on drone strike," Feb. 7
The recently leaked Justice Department memo that outlined the overly broad and vague legal boundaries used to justify drone strikes should shake the American people to the core.
Washington, D.C. — Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) issued the following statement in response to the United States Postal Service announcement that they plan on ending Saturday delivery:
Washington, D.C.—Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced the “Audit the Pentagon Act of 2013” for increased transparency and accountability in the defense budget.
Washington, D.C.—Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee joined fellow members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus at a press conference marking the introduction of The Balancing Act, a bill to repeal the sequester and achieve balance in long-term deficit reduction between revenue and cuts.
Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) issued the following statement regarding immigration reform:
Washington, DC – Today Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) released a statement recognizing the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.
“As we recognize the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must remain vigilant in protecting a woman's right to access safe and legal reproductive and preventative health services.
Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) issued the following statement in response to the President’s Plan to Protect our Children and our Communities by reducing Gun Violence.
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai returns to the United States this week, he will meet President Barack Obama at a time when the overwhelming majority of the American people and a strong bipartisan coalition of Congress believe it is long past time to bring the war to a safe and expedited close.
Introduces Key Legislation to Fight Poverty, Restore Equity and Promote Global Peace & National Security
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee reiterated her commitment to fighting poverty and creating opportunity, restoring income equity and promoting global peace and national security as she introduced a number of bills at the start of the 113th Congress.
After last night's Republican Plan "B" debacle and failure to find agreement within their own Caucus left them with no pathway forward, it is now time for all parties to unite around a new plan, a Plan "D" on the deficit deal.
Oakland, CA – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) provided the following statement concerning decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue of marriage equality.
Many of us in the Congressional Progressive Caucus recognize that no serious plan to address the deficit can go forward without defense spending reforms on the table. The bloated Pentagon budget has increased a staggering 95 percent dating back to 2000. We continue to spend billions upon billions of dollars on a nuclear arsenal and Cold War-era weapons system designed to fight a phantom Soviet army.
Bi-partisan letter to Obama: No military solution in Afghanistan, bring troops home
Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) were joined by over 90 Members of the House of Representatives in sending a bipartisan letter to President Obama, calling for an accelerated end to the war in Afghanistan.
Oakland, CA – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) issued the following statement regarding the 2012 election results: "I want to thank the people of the 13th Congressional District for their resounding support in re-electing me to the United States Congress. It is such a tremendous honor to serve the most vibrant, forward-thinking and diverse constituency in the country.
Oakland, CA – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) issued the following statement on the Presidential Debate:
Oakland, CA – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) issued the following statement on the passing of Senator George McGovern:
"Today our country has lost one of its most committed advocates for the world's most the most vulnerable populations.
Oakland, CA – Barbara Lee issued the following statement on the Presidential Debate:
Oakland, CA – Barbara Lee issued the following statement on the Vice Presidential Debate:
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) issued the following response to the killing of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three Embassy staff:
Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-09) issued the following statement on the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001:
“Today, we as a nation commemorate the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. This anniversary is yet again a sobering moment for our country and a reminder that we must always remember those who perished in this appalling act of violence.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) released the following statement today after the Supreme Court ruled the Affordable Care Act constitutional:
I urge you to vote yes on three amendments made in order last night to H.R. 4310, the FY13 Defense Authorization Bill.These amendments will safely and responsibly bring our troops home from Afghanistan, keep Pentagon spending within the limits of the Budget Control Act, and ensure a meaningful diplomatic option with Iran is on the table.
Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Barbara Lee has been named co-chair of the Congressional Sudan Caucus in the House of Representatives. Lee has been a long-standing leader within the Caucus, focusing her efforts on bringing the world’s attention to the genocide in Darfur.
“The tragedy surrounding the senseless shooting death of unarmed, 17 year-old Trayvon Martin has pricked the conscience of our nation.
Washington, DC - Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) released the following statement today in reaction to the budget plan introduced by Chairman Paul Ryan and Republicans that would threaten Medicare and Medicaid and hurt our nation’s most vulnerable communities:
Lee Calls on Congress and the President to Invest in Job Creation, Decrease Wasteful Defense Spending
“Today the Pentagon previewed a plan to reduce military spending by $6 billion in the 2013 budget request. I am optimistic that current efforts to address runaway defense spending are headed in the right direction.
Washington, D.C.– Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) issued the following statement in response to the President’s State of the Union address:
Who doesn’t like a good comeback story?
That’s a question voters will answer come November in some of the most competitive House races in the country. For Democrats, who need to net 25 seats to seize back the majority, a handful of pickup opportunities rest with former members trying to win their old jobs back.
One of my opponents has a new ad, claiming that I will shut down all children's lemonade stands.
He says that I won't be acting alone, of course. I will do it in concert with my "progressive cronies" - the actual term in the ad. Presumably in return for corporate PAC contributions from Big Lemon.
Alan Grayson was a terrific Congressman during the term he spent in Congress. As a freshman member of the House of Representatives, he changed the national debate on health care, and made it stick. The Republicans have hated him for it ever since. They spent millions against him, to get him out of Congress in 2010. But now he's back.
Mitt Romney's plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program would enable him to pay for a massive tax cut for the rich, which former Rep. Alan Grayson described as Romney's "shell game" on PoliticsNation.
Alan Grayson was on national TV with Rev. Al Sharpton discussing Republican healthcare plans for seniors and the uninsured. Their old plan was “don’t get sick”; their new plans are far worse. This is what Alan said:
With early ballots in the mail, and only three weeks from the August 28th primary, State Senator David Schapira has emerged as the Democratic standard-bearer in a closely watched and increasingly nasty three-way congressional race in Arizona that many observers see as a litmus test for national Democratic chances to pick up critical seats in Congress.
“The primary in Congressional District 9 has pitted three of the brightest members of the Democratic Party in Arizona against each other. All three candidates are leaders in our state and I am honored to call them friends.
Endorsements are a funny thing. Most of them aren't worth anything at all. I have two friends running in the Democratic primary in Arizona's brand new 9th CD, Kyrsten Sinema and Andrei Cherny. Kyrsten is a progressive and Andrei is somewhere in his own world ideologically. But the third guy... well, he's the one who's been endorsed by Raúl-- and by PDA. Whomever wins the August 28th primary is, likelier than not, headed to Congress. That third guy is David Schapira, the Senate Democratic Leader.
On the May Inside the Party call, David Schapira (AZ-9) received the PDA National endorsement. Currently David Schapira is the Arizona State Senate Democratic Leader.
The Arizona Communications Workers of America (CWA) State Council announced today their endorsement of Senate Democratic Leader David Schapira, D-Tempe, in the race for Arizona’s Ninth Congressional District. The state council is comprised of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association (AZCPOA), the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and multiple CWA local affiliates.
Congressman Raúl Grijalva, AZ-07, today announced his endorsement of Arizona Senate Democratic Leader David Schapira, D-Tempe, in his campaign for Arizona’s Ninth Congressional District. “Voters are looking for candidates who stand up for what they believe in and can win, not by hiding their values, but by sharing them with voters. David is that candidate,” said Rep. Grijalva.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer pushes the country's most anti-union agenda yet. David Shapira, Democratic leader of the Arizona state senate, slams his Republican colleagues. Welcome back to "The Ed Show." Jan Brewer and the Arizona Republicans are on a tear. they are on the offensive. they are on a mission to completely destroy public employee unions. have you heard the story before?
As predicted, former state Senator Kyrsten Sinema's not the only Democrat with her eye on Arizona's new Congressional seat -- this morning, state Senate Minority Leader David Schapira announced that he, too, will run in Arizona's newly formed 9th Congressional district.