The news hasn't been good for the U.S. defense budget. Prospects are gloomy for Congress to head-off automatic deep military budget cuts by the January 1 sequestration deadline; the Senate adjourned for recess without bringing the 2013 defense appropriation to a vote; and studies show that as many as 2.14 million Americans in all 50 states could lose their jobs if sequestration hits.
Sequestration is a fancy name for automatic defense cuts of about a half-trillion dollars over the next decade. These cuts will begin in less than five months if members of Congress don't agree to more controlled reductions in military spending. Signs are, they won't.
More likely, this Congress will let sequestration happen. I never believed it until now. Every member of Congress today is more concerned with the November elections than with heading off potential economic disaster at the Pentagon.
Allowing the automatic cuts to happen, moreover, gives everyone on Capitol Hill the political cover he or she needs to shirk responsibility for the automatic cuts and their results when these cuts take place. This, in the election season, is a political gift that no one in Congress on either side of the aisle can resist.
The bad news doesn't stop there. As the Senate skipped out on its collective responsibility to approve a fiscal 2013 Pentagon spending bill, prospects dimmed that any defense appropriation has a chance of getting approved perhaps until after the November elections-maybe even later.
Instead, Congress-as has become its common practice-will allow the Pentagon to operate on a six-month continuing resolution to keep the lights on until after the first of the year. Some in Congress say this continuing resolution will ensure stability in the Pentagon. Actually, it's anything but.
The Pentagon has money for half a year, not for a full year. That means no one will risk starting any new program, and the only contracts to be let will be for the short term. With sequestration looming, moreover, U.S. defense companies are making plans to cut their work forces starting as early as this fall. Stability? Doesn't look like it to me.
"Program managers are unable to initiate any new programs, procurement accounts are frozen, military bases will probably issue only short-term contracts, and training hours will be affected," say officials of the Association of the U.S. Army in a recent legislative update.
Automatic and arbitrary defense cuts are looming on the horizon, the Defense Department and the defense industry are paralyzed from lack of long-term financial commitments, and no one's willing even to acknowledge how U.S. military forces are contracting at an alarming rate.
This is the picture we face as a resurgent China gains influence in the Western Pacific, and as Iran marches ever closer to developing nuclear weapons.
MacKenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in the Wall Street Journal recently that the U.S. Air Force hasn't purchased fewer aircraft in a year since 1916, and that the U.S. Navy's 286 combat and support ships is the smallest fleet since 1916.
I still can remember President Ronald Reagan's goal of a 600-ship Navy back in the 1980s. We've sure slid downhill a long way since then.
Can anyone remember when things were this bad for U.S. defense? I can't. We'll have national elections in early November, and I'm not sure if defense is even a major campaign issue.