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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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Breaking through the Ceiling

The Budget Control Act isn’t short on complicated minutiae – but President Obama’s budget request serves as a reminder that these technicalities really matter.

One of these complexities is how the spending caps reset after the super-committee’s failure.  Its inability to meet its debt reduction target invoked the sequester scenario – again, one we expect will not ultimately happen – early in 2013.  But, per section 251A, it also triggered a switch in spending caps on January 15th of this year.  The security category moved from a general definition wrapping in international affairs, DHS, and the VA to a much narrower one that includes only national defense (function 050).

The President’s 2013 request does not acknowledge that change.  It hits the wider cap precisely (see pg. 38).  But national defense exceeds the new, revised cap by over $4 billion.*  Visually, you’ll see by clicking on the chart that the revised security column is slightly above its revised security cap.

This morning Russell Rumbaugh analyzed the administration’s possible rationale in this move, and Gordon Adams emphasized the politics of the 2012 lame duck Congress.  Putting 2 + 2 together, it looks like the debate on defense spending late this year is going to be even hotter than expected.

* Those looking at the revised security request – national defense, function 050 – using OMB’s Historical Table 5-6, be sure to subtract out $88.5B for war spending.