Fiscal Cliff 2013: Congress Could Have Dodged This Calamity Months Ago


With the sequestration deadline approaching, Congress and the president continue negotiating a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Oddly enough, the same Congress has decided to increase the Department of Defense budget.

In February, President Obama proposed a defense budget of $613.9 billion for fiscal year 2013. The budget included $525.4 billion in discretionary funds for base defense programs and $88.5 billion for support of overseas operations. The House decided in May to introduce a draft budget of $643 billion: $554 billion for base defense programs, and $89 billion for overseas operations. The increases led Obama to threaten a veto on the measure. The House did pass a lower version in July but it still was $8 billion over the original request.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 98-0 to approve a $631 billion defense budget for fiscal year 2013. The budget was increased by $17 billion over the original request. The Senate bill also included an amendment reducing up to 36,000 civilian and contractor positions at the department. The workforce reductions would take place through fiscal year 2017. The amendment seems contradictory since the budget increases but yet the department must reduce its civilian personnel.

The House and Senate bills still have to be combined into a single version but the increases show that Congress will be protecting defense from the fiscal cliff. By inflating the defense budget, Congress can reduce the impact on defense if mandatory cuts do take place. The increases may be there to provide phantom savings: increase the budget just so it can be reduced to show some savings later. This is against the point of sequestration where defense and domestic programs were to be cut equally.

Instead of exercising fiscal responsibility, Congress decided to pork up the defense budget for personal benefits. The increase to the budget should be blamed on Congress as a whole. Republicans and Democrats have manipulated a workable budget and then lauded the result. The original budget could have been used as a baseline for future reductions. This would have required the Pentagon to continue looking for cost savings, especially in weapon programs. Instead Congress’ actions perpetuate the fraud, waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars.