More Details on the Deal

From the Wall Street Journal:

The immediate spending cuts are real, if smaller than we’d prefer, and the longer-term cuts could be real if Republicans hold Congress and continue to enforce the deal’s spending caps.

The framework (we haven’t seen all the details) calls for an initial step of some $900 billion in domestic discretionary cuts over 10 years from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) baseline puffed up by recent spending. If the cuts hold, this would go some way to erasing the fiscal damage from the Obama-Nancy Pelosi stimulus. This is no small achievement considering that Republicans control neither the Senate nor the White House, and it underscores how much the GOP victory in November has reshaped the U.S. fiscal debate.

The second phase of the deal is less clear cut, though it also could turn out to shrink Leviathan. Party leaders in both houses of Congress will each appoint three Members to a special committee that will recommend another round of deficit reduction of between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion, also over 10 years. Their mandate is broad, and we’re told very little is off the table, but at least seven of the 12 Members would have to agree on a package to force an up-or-down vote in Congress.

If the committee can’t agree on enough deficit reduction, then automatic spending cuts would ensue to make up the difference to reach the $1.2 trillion minimum deficit-reduction target. One key point is that the committee’s failure to agree would not automatically “trigger” (in Beltway parlance) revenue increases, as the White House was insisting on as recently as this weekend. That would have guaranteed that Democrats would never agree to enough cuts, and Republicans were right to resist.

Instead the automatic cuts would be divided equally between defense and nondefense. So, for example, if the committee agrees to deficit reduction of only $600 billion, then another $300 billion would be cut automatically from defense and domestic accounts (excluding Medicare beneficiaries) to reach at least $1.2 trillion.

This trigger is intended to be an incentive for committee Members of both parties to agree on more cuts, but defense cuts of this magnitude would do far more harm to national security than they would to domestic accounts that have been fattened by stimulus. This is the worst part of the deal, and Mr. Obama’s political goal will be to press Republicans to choose between tax increases and destructive defense cuts. The GOP will have to fight back and make the choice between domestic cuts and harm to our troops fighting multiple wars.

The disproportionate effect the “trigger” will have on defense spending is definitely worrying. The GOP should hit the talk circuit right away and point out all the waste and redundancy in the federal government that should be rooted out before we start talking about trimming the military. Which is not to say that defense spending must remain entirely sacrosanct – I’m sure there’s waste there as well – but given that providing for our common defense is one of the constitutional functions of the federal government (unlike, say, providing funding for bunny inspectors and cowboy poets), it certainly shouldn’t be first on the chopping block.

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