Written by SHARLA TORRE MONTVEL-COHEN
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Editor's Note: This story first broke last week in the Guam Buildup News e-newsletter and is printed here on the web site due to popular demand.
GUAM – The law that allowed The United States to raise the country's debt ceiling has a trigger that could mean a second round of Defense Department spending cuts that would shrink the Defense budget by another half trillion dollars for the next decade.
A second round of budget cuts would produce an outcome "that would be completely unacceptable to me as secretary of defense, to the president, and to our nation's leaders," Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said at a Pentagon press conference on August 4.
While first-round cuts, roughly $350 billion over ten years, might be made without compromise to force posture, experts like the Brookings Institution have said a second, automatic round of cuts, in the range of $500 billion to $600 billion over a decade, would have to be done "by cutting real military capability."
Since 2006, the U.S. and Japan have been working to realign 30,000 troops across Asia-Pacific, including transferring 8,600 Marines to Guam from Okinawa.
It's far too early to expect any clear visibility on how the debt ceiling law will impact the realignment and the Guam buildup. But the Pentagon has made it clear that impacts across the board would be serious for all of DoD. The new law was not designed to significantly affect Defense spending until fiscal year 2013.
There are even some, like Senator Sam Coburn (R-Oklahoma), who say the so-called doomsday mechanism is political gimmickry and that Washington will "easily evade" deeper Defense cuts in the end.
Whatever the case, clearer visibility on how deep Defense cuts will be is not likely for a while, and Guam, like everyone else, will have to accept the unknown for the time being. Washington remains deeply divided over how to restore the nation's fiscal house, and with the economy still hurting and the 2012 presidential election season already in gear, clarity on this issue could be a long way off yet.
Meanwhile, a large portion of $1.32 billion in appropriated funds for the Marine transfer and related buildup projects remains unspent yet. Also expected to come from the government of Japan this year is another $420 million enacted in its national budget last March.
On July 14, President Obama urged the Senate to restore the $155 million it cut from Guam's fiscal year 2012 buildup funding. The House version of the budget retains that money, and it may yet be weeks if not longer before Congress reaches a final budget compromise.
GuamBuildupNews.com will continue to watch these issues and provide insight and news updates as they unfold as they will have significant consequences for the island and the nation.
Correction: An earlier version of this story has been corrected. The second-round defense cuts of $500 billion to $600 billion would be spread across 10 years.
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