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“Modest reforms to pay and compensation will improve readiness and modernization. It will help keep our all-volunteer force sustainable and strong. Keeping faith also means investing sufficient resources so that we can uphold our sacred obligations to defend the nation and to send our sons and daughters to war with only the best training, leadership and equipment. We can’t shrink from our obligations to one another. The stakes are too high.”

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

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With everyone speculating about what cutting defense spending would mean, it’s a good time to review how current estimates of cuts compare to past builddowns. 

So far, the proposed cuts aren’t even close to historical standards.  In the last three builddowns, the defense budget after 10 years has been about 30% lower than its peak:  the builddown in the ‘50s took $2.3 billion out of the defense budget in ten years and left it 31% lower than it was; in the ‘70s, $1.2 trillion came out leaving the budget 28% lower; and in the ‘90s, $1 trillion for 31% lower. 

 If the administration’s extrapolation of the debt deal of $350 billion savings actually came to be, the defense budget would only be 8% lower than FY11.  We’ve previously said the sequester is bad budgeting because it would cause an unmanaged cliff in defense spending, but even the total savings the sequester would trigger still wouldn’t reach historical builddown levels. 

We need to make critical choices to ensure our national security given the budget pressures, but in context, the sums currently being considered are pretty small.