Defense spending faces $700 billion cut

National security spending could be cut by as much as $700 billion in a deal to raise the debt limit, defense sources said.

That’s almost twice the amount President Obama originally proposed.

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Obama directed the Defense Department and other national-security agencies to slash $400 billion by 2023. But in the closed-door talks to raise the debt ceiling, larger Pentagon funding cuts have been seriously discussed, several sources said, putting the number between $600 billion and $700 billion over a decade.

A final decision has yet to be made, but the sources said negotiators have not ruled out making deeper cuts than Obama planned.

As the Aug. 2 deadline for defaulting on the debt approaches, GOP members have dug in and said any accord cannot include tax hikes.

Sources told The Hill recently that GOP negotiators are ready to break with recent Republican ideology by trading large defense cuts for not raising taxes as part of a debt-ceiling deal.

“Robust defense spending and lower taxes have been two hallmarks of the Republican Party for years,” one former GOP House staffer said. “And those two things are going to be in direct competition with one another” in the debt talks.

Cuts larger than $400 billion over a decade would serve two purposes for the Republicans: helping stave off tax increases and giving them campaign-trail fodder for the 2012 election cycle.

“They want to hang defense cuts around the administration’s neck for 2012,” said one Democratic source who works on military issues. “View all and any of this in the political context.”

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush and Obama administrations have dramatically increased annual Pentagon spending levels.

“In inflation-adjusted dollars, the total defense budget has grown from $432 billion in FY01 to $720 billion in FY11, a real increase of approximately 67 percent,” according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “The Pentagon’s base budget ... has also grown steadily over the last decade, increasing from $390 billion in FY01 to $540 billion in FY11, a real increase of 38 percent.”

Democrats for years have raised concerns about this rate of growth, and called for Defense Department spending reductions.

For instance, during House floor debate Wednesday on the 2012 Pentagon appropriations measure, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) noted that other federal agencies’ budgets have been targeted for significant reductions. But the Pentagon has been kept “immune,” Welch said.

He offered an amendment targeting $297 million in the defense appropriations bill for research and development on a new bomber aircraft for the Air Force, one of that service’s top hardware priorities.

The Air Force requested $197 million for the bomber program.

Panel leaders tacked on an extra $100 million after talks with Air Force and industry officials led them to believe “we might be able to accelerate” the program’s schedule with the additional funding, House Appropriations Committee ranking member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) said.

Welch argued that while research and development for a new fleet of bombers might be “desirable,” the nation’s bleak fiscal standing means lawmakers should be asking whether “it is affordable.”

The amendment was overwhelmingly defeated Wednesday evening.

Lawmakers from both parties have talked for months about the need to enact defense spending cuts to help fix America’s broken finances.

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During his first-ever Twitter town hall meeting Wednesday, Obama said the Defense budget is so large that even modest cuts to it would free up dollars for other federal programs. 

But the three 2012 Pentagon spending bills that have emerged so far feature only modest cuts.

The House-passed defense authorization measure matches the administration’s $553 billion request.

On Wednesday, the House began the next step in the process — appropriating the money — and moved toward approving a $9 billion reduction in the Obama administration’s 2012 Pentagon request.

The Senate Armed Services Committee recently passed a 2012 Pentagon authorization measure that was $6.4 billion smaller than the administration’s request.

Panel Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters his panel’s several requests to the White House for guidance on how large the 2012 portion of the $400 billion cut should have been answered.

That silence could have stemmed from White House budget officials waiting to see if debt-limit deliberations make even bigger defense and national-security spending cuts necessary.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to begin work on its 2012 Pentagon funding bill, but its chairman, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), has come out against deep Pentagon cuts.