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.
Virginia is now being mentioned as a crucial swing state. This Congressional race is certainly one to watch. Perhaps that was why I was so impressed to hear candidate Wayne Powell, (who is challenging incumbent Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for the seat he has held in the 7th District of Virginia since 2001) speak boldly and openly about the environment showdown with Cantor.
Running against incumbent Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia’s GOP-heavy 7th District is enough to give any Democrat the blues. So Bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley will headline a two-day campaign swing for Powell next week.
Dream on. But Democratic long shot Wayne Powell might put a few dents in the House majority leader's armor. That Powell and Zerban were in LA raising money for what seemed like increasingly less quixotic quests—Powell is the first challenger Cantor has agreed to debate in 10 years, and Zerban's internal polling in September put him within single digits of Ryan—could underscore America's waning infatuation with tea-party-style politics.
Perhaps you should give it a look, post-mortem. After all, this is the first debate Eric Cantor has agreed to in TEN YEARS.
A top aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the Republican will not accept a challenge from Chesterfield County’s Democratic Party to meet its own candidate, Wayne Powell, in a free public forum before the Nov. 6 elections.
Eric Cantor is not particularly popular in his Republican-leaning district. His personal popularity is 37% favorable, 31% unfavorable. Strongly unfavorable views outnumber strongly favorable ones, 25%- 21%. Cantor’s “re-elect” number is weak: 41% want to re-elect Cantor, while 43% want to replace him.
Democratic 7th District congressional candidate Wayne Powell is taking his campaign to unseat longterm incumbent Republican Eric Cantor right into the living rooms of central Virginia Republicans. The ad will run district-wide approximately once an hour on Fox News for the entire Convention. The ad buy is indicative of Powell’s strategy of reaching out to all voters regardless of their political affiliation.
A Richmond native and attorney like his opponent, Powell is otherwise very different from 49-year-old Cantor, Majority Leader in the U.S. House since 2011, and Culpeper County’s congressional representative since 2000.
Cantor’s name came up a lot during Thursday’s “Open Town Hall Meeting” hosted by Powell, who was articulate and well received by local constituents in attendance.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-7th, will debate Democratic challenger Wayne Powell on Friday, Sept. 28.
Cantor, who declined to debate Democratic challenger Rick Waugh in 2010, has not debated a Democrat in a general election since 2002, when he squared off with former Georgia congressman and "Dukes of Hazzard" star Ben L. "Cooter" Jones.
It takes courage to look at a roomful of Democrats and confess that you were a consultant on John Edwards’ presidential campaign.
But that is exactly what Dave “Mudcat” Saunders did at the June 6 Chesterfield Democratic Committee meeting. Saunders just put it right out there while telling members how he thinks Wayne Powell can beat 7th District Congressman Eric Cantor.
Wayne Powell, Veteran, Small Business Owner and Local Attorney Is the Democratic Nominee to Oppose Eric Cantor. Says Cantor is “epitome of what is wrong in Washington…a career political operator who is the poster child for Washington gridlock and dysfunction”
“We take care of our own.” That was the major theme of Wayne Powell’s speech Friday at the Raven’s Nest in Culpeper.
Powell is a Democratic candidate for the 7th District, the seat currently held by House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor.
For Wayne Powell, Virginia’s 7th Congressional District “isn’t personal, it’s Cantor.”
Powell, 62, is challenging Republican incumbent Eric Cantor of Henrico County for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Powell is one of the three candidates running for the spot on the Democratic ballot this fall.
Wayne Powell wants to be the Democratic Party nominee to challenge House Majority Leader Rep. Eric I. Cantor, R-Henrico, for the 7th District seat in the House of Representatives in November.
Earlier this evening I spoke with Wayne Powell, one of three 7th Congressional District Democrats seeking the Democratic Party's nomination to face off against Eric Cantor this November. Powell told me that when he heard what had happened at Virginia's Capitol Square, he hurried downtown to offer his legal services to the protesters that had been arrested.
E. Wayne Powell, candidate for the Democratic nomination against Eric cantor in the Seventh Congressional District, today released this statement about the incidents at the Capitol.
E. Wayne Powell, a candidate for the Democratic nomination to take on Eric Cantor in Virginia's 7th Congressional District, has had a really amazing week. It all started last Thursday when Powell received the endorsement of the Progressive Democrats of America's chapter in Virginia's 7th CD. Powell's education and experience—especially his service in the military—make him exceptionally well equipped to face Cantor.
On October 13th members of the PDA 7th District Chapter endorsed candidate E. Wayne Powell.
Occasionally I take a long weekend. It’s a chance to take a break from the profession, and the campaign. Last weekend I travelled to New York City. What started as a getaway ended in an exhilarating glimpse of democracy in action.
My name is Wayne Powell, and I'm a Democrat running for Congress in Virginia's 7th Congressional District to replace Eric Cantor. Americans need good jobs now. Let's face it, as a nation we tend to define ourselves by what we do. I am an attorney and a retired military officer. When you deny Americans an opportunity to do meaningful work and contribute to their community by providing services, you are attacking a key part of their individual identities.
VA-07 E. Wayne Powellhttp://www.powellforva.com