The Pentagon could face up to $100 billion in cuts under any deficit reduction deal, according to Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, shown above. (File photo / Getty Images)
If a deficit-reduction deal is reached, it could include $100 billion more in defense cuts over the next decade, according to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
That would be in addition to the $487 billion the Pentagon is already shaving off its projected spending over the next 10 years. However, it is far less than the additional $500 billion in automatic cuts that would be enforced under sequestration.
Speaking Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he would not want to see cuts to the Defense Department’s budget go above an additional $10 billion a year over a 10-year period.
“I think Defense has got to contribute, but I think we’ve got to be very, very careful that we don’t do the draconian approach on defense or on any of the other important programs like education and so forth,” he said.
He singled out the nuclear weapons stockpile as one area where the Defense Department could safely make further reductions.
Levin is not alone in saying that Defense will have to play some role in a larger deficit-reduction package.
Last week, a task force of defense heavyweights organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center urged Congress to adopt a comprehensive deficit-reduction package to avoid the damaging impacts of sequestration.
While arguing that sequestration is the worst way to bring down the Pentagon’s budget, the task force acknowledged that savings at the Defense Department could still play a role in a deficit-reduction package that emphasizes tax reform and changes to entitlement programs.
Levin said there is work underway in the Senate, “where lots of colleagues are exploring possibilities to reach agreement in advance, to send some kind of a signal that we’re able to act in a way that is rational and in a way that involves compromise on the part of everybody.”
If Republicans want to save the Defense Department from sequestration, they have to be willing to compromise on taxes, Levin said.
“We have Republican leadership drawing an absolute line in the sand against additional revenue, even though every president that has achieved significant deficit-reduction has made revenue a part of the equation,” he said.
As for Mitt Romney’s plans to increase defense spending if he wins the White House this fall, Levin said there are a lot of unanswered questions.
“If he wants to add money to defense spending, he’s going to have to do two things, which he refuses to do: have a press conference and identify where is it that he would get the funds,” Levin said.
Secondly, Romney needs to address the revenue question, he said.
“If he wants to increase defense spending and he doesn’t go for revenue, where’s he going to cut?” Levin said. “He should not be allowed to get away with some answer like he’ll go for efficiency and cutting waste.”
The thing to watch for over the summer is whether Republicans, including Romney, show some flexibility when it comes to taxes, Levin said.
The senator said he believes Congress will find a way out of sequestration because an overwhelming majority on Capitol Hill want to avoid it.
Is it possible for Congress to avert sequestration through a short-term fix versus tackling the country’s larger fiscal problems? Of course, Levin said. “Not only can Congress kick the can down the road, I think we’ve got special gym shoes for can-kicking.”