Military update: Leaders call sequester cuts ‘mindless’

The Joint Chiefs are breathing a bit easier after the House voted last week to fund the government through September, and included a 2013 defense appropriations bill that would give the armed services more money and budget flexibility to ease the threat of a wartime readiness crisis.

House passage of the bill, HR 933, also drove home a bracing reality: that even the most conservative defense hawks are set to allow arbitrary "sequestration" cuts to clobber portions of the defense budget, including civilian personnel paychecks and key military family support programs.

Unaltered by the House bill, for example, is a $130 million bite from commissary operations this year, which will force base grocery stores, at least in the continental United States, to close Wednesdays, their lightest sales day, from late April through September.

This will coincide with day-a-week furloughs — or 20 percent pay cuts — planned for up to 800,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense.

Civilian staff will be cut at military hospitals and clinics, at Defense-run dependent schools and at base day care centers.

The Marine Corps already has announced that tuition assistance has been closed to new entrants.

These are just a sampling of cuts occurring across the military because of a March 1 sequestration order to cut federal spending across-the-board to save $85 billion this fiscal year, half of that from the Department of Defense.

Since January, Defense civilian and military leaders have warned that their 2013 budgets are in a vice, created by a continuing budget resolution that froze spending below fiscal 2012 levels, and by the "mindless" cuts of sequestration, which kicked in this month after lawmakers stopped even trying to negotiate a "grand bargain" $1.2 trillion debt-reduction deal.

President Obama and Democrats insist that any deal be "balanced" with a combination of spending cuts and new revenue, to include either tax increases or closing of tax loopholes on the wealthy and on special interests.

Republican leaders insist they will not raise more revenue, even by closing loopholes they've criticized before, given that they did agree on Jan. 1 to allow a several percentage point bump in income taxes for individuals earning more than $400,000 and families earning more than $450,000.

Neither side budged as the sequester took hold, despite increasingly dire warnings from the Joint Chiefs that readiness would deteriorate quickly and troop morale was falling amid the budget chaos.

Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by email at:

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