ON MARCH 1, absent a legislative fix that still seems unlikely, the fiscal ax will fall on every facet of the US government. The so-called “sequester” will automatically chop $85 billion from all discretionary spending, with no room for negotiation or a reasoned policy analysis that would protect successful programs over the more expendable ones. The sequester is a bad idea. There is no reason that government should function this way. But, as some commentators have begun to note, it is finally forcing an important reckoning at the Pentagon regarding spending and cost savings. If nothing else, the threat of sequester has the Defense Department, which Congress has often treated as a sacred cow, engaging in the kind of cost-benefit analysis that other departments do routinely.
Pentagon leaders are raising concerns that the sequester will jeopardize America’s security while simultaneously claiming that they can handle many of the cuts. The latter is likely the truer position. The threats the military faces are constantly changing, and range from cyber attacks from China to terrorism threats from Al Qaeda, and yet programs designed for Cold War-like deterrence remain largely uncut. According to the Congressional Budget Office, even if the sequester were to go into effect, the Pentagon’s roughly $700 billion budget would still grow by 2.4 percent in 2014.