The Military Can Handle The Sequester Cuts — Even If The Economy Can’t

Speaker John Boehner said of the sequester, “A federal policy is set to go into effect that threatens U.S. national security.” But if that were really true, would he be so eager let it happen?

The truth is that the sequester cuts would shrink Pentagon spending to about the same amount we spent in 2006. This is still above that spent during the Cold War, according to a new report, ” Sequestration, the Pentagon and the State” (PDF) from the National Priorities Project, when the nation actually faced an existential threat from a military enemy.

Between 9/11 and 2011, U.S. defense spending grew 48 percent and is now greater than the total spending of the 16 next largest countries.

“For the $647.4 billion that the Pentagon is projected to spend in FY2013, we could provide the maximum $5,500 annual Pell Grant award to each of the nation’s 21.6 million college and university students for the next 5.4 years,” according to the NPP report.

Currently, defense makes up 57 percent of the nation’s discretionary spending.

The planned cuts to defense were put into the sequester in order to raise the chances that Republicans would choose to avert it. That prediction appears to have been faulty, as the House GOP is refusing to consider any alternative to the cuts that includes any deficit reduction from revenue.

The White House has released a report of state-by-state impact of the $1.2 trillion in cuts built into the sequester to try to make it clear that the cuts will have a real effect on the economy and government services. And while the military cuts will put Americans out of work, it’s cuts to other government spending that will impact the economy the most.

“A $1 billion federal investment in health care would create 2.4 times more jobs than investing it in the Pentagon,” the NPP notes.

The Congressional Budget Office predicts that 750,000 jobs would be lost if the entirety of the sequester cuts goes into effect. However, as many as 2.14 million jobs could be threatened, according to George Mason University’s Dr. Stephen S. Fuller, who conducted a study on behalf of the Aerospace Industries Association. (Of course, the aerospace industry includes defense contractors who are fighting against the military cuts.)

“The results are bleak but clear-cut,” said Fuller. “The unemployment rate will climb above 9 percent, pushing the economy toward recession and reducing projected growth in 2013 by two-thirds.  An already weak economy will be undercut as the paychecks of thousands of workers across the economy will be affected, from teachers, nurses [and] construction workers to key federal employees such as border patrol and FBI agents, food inspectors and others.”

The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn, who is certainly not an advocate of the defense industry, has a similar assessment.

“The recovery is already pretty weak,”  Cohn writes. “Taking money out of it, which is what the sequester cuts would do, would make it weaker. Non-partisan analysts, including those at the Congressional Budget Office and private firms like Macroeconomic Advisers, predict that the sequester cuts would reduce growth by anywhere from a half to a full percentage point in the next year.”

So even if you don’t have a government job, travel in airports where security wait times may increase by over 50 percent or eat food that’s less likely to be inspected, you’ll be affected by the sequester.

That’s why it wasn’t supposed to happen, and it could go away with a one-paragraph bill. And if it doesn’t, that means House Republicans decided that the U.S. military could handle it, even if the economy can’t.

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