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Democratic platform supports more DoD cuts

Sep. 5, 2012 - 05:04PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments

The Democratic Party’s 2012 policy platform signals it would welcome additional Pentagon spending reductions, and targets for cuts “outdated Cold War-era systems” such as nuclear weapons.

The set of policies endorsed this week at the party’s national convention in Charlotte, N.C., calls for “tough budgetary decisions,” but it does not call for voiding $500 billion in national defense spending cuts that would kick in Jan. 2 if lawmakers fail to enact a broader $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction package.

“In our current fiscal environment, we must also make tough budgetary decisions across the board — and that includes within the defense budget,” the Democratic platform states. “The Budget Control Act enacted by Congress last year, with the support of Republicans and Democrats alike, mandates reductions in federal spending, including defense spending. The [Obama] administration has worked with Congress to make these decisions, which has been a strategy-driven process.”

The final portion of that statement will rile congressional Republicans and industry officials, who echo Pentagon brass in warning the automatic $500 billion in cuts to planned military spending would be made devoid of any strategic considerations. For instance, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and others say the cuts would be made by reducing all non-exempt accounts by a yet-determined percentage.

The months-long battle over the Pentagon budget is expected to boil anew next week when lawmakers return from their annual summer recess.

Most Republicans want to prevent more defense cuts; their Democratic counterparts believe the Pentagon budget is inflated, and favor eliminating some weapon systems.

“We will continue to get rid of outdated Cold War-era systems so that we can invest in cutting-edge technologies and maintain a versatile set of capabilities required to execute a wide range of military missions,” the Democrats’ platform states.

The GOP platform adopted last week at that party’s convention makes a full-throated call to avoid the cuts to planned defense spending.

The Republicans’ platform calls the pending cuts “severe,” and warns they would be “a disaster for national security, imperiling the safety of our servicemen and women, accelerating the decline of our nation’s defense industrial base, and resulting in the layoff of more than 1 million skilled workers.”

Lawmakers and top aides from both parties have been quietly searching for months for some kind of legislative tool to void the 10-year, $500 billion cut. But congressional aides from both parties tell Defense News any such legislation likely will not be voted on until after the November election.

One Senate aide said talks on finding a way around the defense cuts were held during the summer recess. The aide characterized those as occurring among top staffers, not senior lawmakers.

“The general consensus is still that nothing will happen before Nov. 6,” the Senate aide said.

One issue that Congress likely will vigorously debate later this year is the future size of America’s atomic arsenal.

Democrats and Republicans appear unlikely to find much common ground. Republicans favor keeping the existing nuclear fleet in place, while Democrats believe the arsenal — which is expensive to operate and maintain — is ripe for cuts.

The Democratic platform notes the Obama administration already “has moved away from Cold War thinking by reducing the prominence of nuclear weapons in America’s national security strategy.”

The official Democratic platform document trumpets a nuclear-arms reductions treaty with Russia that the Obama administration finalized last year — and uses it to take a swipe at President Barack Obama’s GOP foe, Mitt Romney. The George W. Bush administration had an early hand in negotiating that pact, called the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START for short.

“Despite bipartisan consensus among former national security advisors, secretaries of defense, and secretaries of state that New START makes America safer, Mitt Romney strongly objected to the treaty,” the Democratic platform states.

To that end, the GOP platform alleges “the United States is the only nuclear power not modernizing its nuclear stockpile.” “It took the current administration just one year to renege on the president’s commitment to modernize the neglected infrastructure of the nuclear weapons complex — a commitment made in exchange for approval of the New START treaty.”

But administration officials in recent months have called those charges unfounded, pointing to the Obama administration’s 2013 budget proposal to show the White House intends to carry out that infrastructure work.

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