Is defense sequestration rhetoric overblown?

Wednesday - 12/21/2011, 5:05pm EST

Pentagon Solutions

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By Jack Moore
@jmooreWFED
Federal News Radio

Much has been made of sequestration, the process by which the Defense Department and other agencies will experience budget cuts because the supercommittee failed to agree on a package of negotiated cuts.

Some of the rhetoric — both for and against cutting the defense budget — has been borderline inflammatory.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies examined the numbers behind sequestration and presented its findings as part of its "Critical Questions" series.

The leaders of the research team, joined Pentagon Solutions with Francis Rose to discuss the results.

David Berteau, senior vice president and director of the International Security Program and Ryan Crotty, a research associate with the CSIS Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group, explain in a CSIS Q&A that sequestration is only one factor affecting the Pentagon's budget over the next decade.

Along with the more than $490 billion in sequestration cuts are $450 billion in budgetary caps and nearly $40 billion in cuts mandated by the White House.

"While this is certainly a lot of money, it represents approximately a 15 percent reduction below the baseline 10-year budget provided by the Congressional Budget Office," Berteau and Crotty wrote.

However, DoD leaders have presented the threat of sequestration in stark terms.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called sequestration "devastating," and said the across-the-board cuts "will tear a seam in the nation's defense."

And, Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told Federal News Radio last month, "the threat of sequestration is going to hang over the Department of Defense and other parts of the federal government for probably another year."

Still, Crotty and Berteau wrote that much of the rhetoric emanating from DoD's leaders may be slightly overblown.

"Despite the outcry from the Pentagon, the total level of these cuts is less than catastrophic. Even under sequestration, the DoD budget in 2013 would be approximately equal to the base budget in 2007 (adjusted for inflation) and well above the low points of defense spending in the late 1990s," according to their CSIS research.

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