Rebuttal of Mark Thompson’s lies

On July 20th, Mark Thompson published an utterly ridiculous blogpost on his blog in the Battleland section of the Time magazine’s website. It used two graphs taken from this CBO report to “prove” that the sequester would not make any real cuts to defense spending at all – just keep it flat. But the first of these graphs utterly disproved him, which means his claim is a lie. Below is the response I posted on that blog:

Mr Thompson, your blogpost, which was clearly intended to downplay sequestration and mislead the American people into thinking that it wouldn’t mean any real defense spending cuts, has utterly failed to do the job. If anything, it provides additional evidence that sequestration would be disastrous.

Look at your own graph at the top. It shows how high defense spending would be with sequestration, without it, and without First Tier BCA-mandated cuts. Your own graph, borrowed from the CBO, shows that WITH sequestration, defense spending would be much lower than without it.

Moreover, it shows that under sequestration, defense would be cut immediately, in FY2013, to $491 bn and be kept essentially flat. By FY2022, a full decade from now, it would still be only $500 bn in constant dollars. The deep cut would occur in FY2013, at the beginning of the FYDP, and only AFTER that big cut would defense stay flat (throughout the rest of, and after, the FYDP).

That IS a big and real spending cut. It’s akin to punching someone so that he’ll fall onto the ground, then stomping on him to keep him down. That is exactly what will happen to defense under sequestration.

The debate about sequestration is NOT just about its impact in the FYDP window; it’s about its impact throughout the entire next decade, including, and especially, the first FY, in which defense spending would have to be cut from $531 bn today to $491 bn (Larry Korb says $472 bn) in FY2013.

Those are real cuts. And such deep cuts cannot be made with pure efficiencies and “waste elimination”; they would unavoidably entail deep cuts to needed military capabilities and crucial modernization programs. That, in turn, will make America dramatically less safe.

The FY2006 defense budget was inadequate even then, and would be even more inadequate now. And it was passed over 6 years ago, for goodness sake! Setting defense spending by six (or more) years would be a big cut. And setting DOD spending levels arbitrarily according to what was spent in a given past year is dumb – regardless of whether defense spending was lower or higher at the time.

Regarding your second graph, it’s apparent that not only can’t you read a simple graph, you don’t even read what you write. By your own admission, the 2nd graph depicts what procurement spending (a minority part of the defense budget) would look like WITHOUT sequestration.

If sequestration is avoided, the DOD might very well be able to increase procurement investments at the expense of something else (O&M, the force structure, or health programs). The nation has been on a procurement holiday since the end of the Cold War. The vast majority of the military’s equipment is obsolete and worn out. The bill for replacing it is now coming due.

But that scenario can transpire ONLY if sequestration is avoided.

But this whole debate is about what will happen if sequestration DOES OCCUR. And if it does (God forbid), your second graph will become immediately irrelevant and the procurement plan it represents will go out the window.

Mr Thompson, you are completely wrong, as usual. Sequestration WOULD represent a draconian and immediate cut, and any ambitious procurement plans can be implemented ONLY if it is avoided. As your own graphs prove.

Since then, I’ve uncovered additional facts found in the CBO report from which those graphs were taken. In there, the CBO states:

1) That the procurement holiday needs to end now and the bill for modernizing and replacing obsolete and wornout equipment is now coming due: “The costs of replacing and modernizing weapon systems would grow sharply during the next several years, from $168 billion in 2013 to $212 billion in 2018 in real terms—an increase of 26 percent. Acquisition costs would remain fairly steady at that level until 2025 before declining.”

2) That under sequestration, defense spending will decline sharply as a percentage of GDP: “The growth in DoD’s costs would be less than the growth of the economy, so costs would decline as a share of gross domestic product (GDP). Spending for DoD’s base budget was 3.5 percent of GDP in 2010 and would decline to 3.0 percent of GDP in 2017 and to 2.5 percent in 2030.”

3) That sequestration would mean real, draconian cuts to the defense budget – cuts even deeper than I expected. Specifically, Table 1-4 on page 11 of the report shows how deeply defense spending would be cut by the first round of BCA-mandated cuts and by sequestration.

Even without sequestration, the base defense budget would be cut from $531 bn today to $521 bn next year and not return to its present level until FY2018.

But WITH SEQUESTRATION, defense spending would be drastically cut, from $531 bn this FY down to just $469 bn in FY2013 (the lowest level in a decade). After that draconian cut, it would remain essentially flat – the “growth” that sequestration would permit would be so slow that defense would barely reach $493 bn ($38 bn less than what it is today) by FY2022, a decade from now.

In other words, under sequestration, defense spending would be cut drastically and immediately, down to $469 bn, and would not reach even $500 bn a decade from now. And it would not return to its present level ($531 bn) for more than a decade, if ever.

Don’t take my word for it. Read the report yourself. The table stating this data (Table 1-4) is on page 11. Also see the graph posted in this CBO summary of its own report, which puts these numbers in an illustrated version.

This utterly refutes, discredits, and belies the false claims that sequestration’s defenders and other proponents of massive defense cuts have been peddling for a long time: 1) that sequestration would represent only a cut in the rate of growth; and 2) that the sequester’s cuts would not be massive nor draconian.

Proponents of massive defense cuts have been spreading these and other lies for a long time. They may have succeeded in misleading some politicians and voters who don’t know better. But the truth is on my side, as proven by this CBO report.

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