WASHINGTON -- Congress' failure to pass a spending bill for the Pentagon is causing almost as much concern as the automatic spending cuts that loom March 1, according to an internal document obtained by USA TODAY.
The Pentagon operates under a stopgap spending plan that hews to the 2012 budget. That plan allocates more money to buying weapons than it does to more urgent priorities like maintenance and training. Moreover, fighting in Afghanistan -- and moving gear in and out -- has cost more than planners had anticipated, the document says.
The stopgap plan, called the Continuing Resolution, expires on March 27. Extending it won't help the Defense Department, according to the document.
"This CR poses serious problems for DOD, especially if it is extended for an entire year," the document says.
Each of the armed services, in memos obtained by USA TODAY, envisions drastic cuts to bases, repair depots and defense-related businesses in all 50 states. Defense analysts say there is some exaggeration in the military's predictions of catastrophic damage to the ability to train and fight. But there is general agreement that $46 billion in cuts over the final seven months of the 2013 fiscal year will have significant impacts. One of the largest and most visible will be the mandatory furloughs for the military's 800,000 civilian employees. The 22 days of unpaid leave will save the Pentagon as much as $5 billion.
The new Pentagon memo says the combined effects of sequestration and the continuing resolution, if allowed to continue for the year, would require "drastic and irreversible" actions. Those include furloughs, reduced training and delays in buying weapons.
Rep. Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, warned last week about the consequences of allowing stopgap spending plans to continue.
"The damage from sequestration compounds the uncertainty created by funding the federal government, particularly the Department of Defense, through a continuing resolution," Smith said.
John Pike, executive director of GlobalSecurity, a defense policy organization, said concern over cuts to military spending are overblown. The United States need to keep its considerable edge over China, requiring investments in high-tech weaponry. But the U.S. military doesn't need hundreds of thousand of troops ready to fight on a moment's notice, he said.
Pike noted that the defense budget has doubled since the Sept. 11 terror attacks and could be trimmed by two-thirds and not damage national security if done correctly.
But the defense industry and its lobbyists have persuaded Congress to maintain high levels of spending, Pike said. That has benefited many in the Washington area.
"If peace broke out," Pike said, "this town would be destroyed."
On the contrary, said Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant and analyst at the Lexington Institute, the combination of cuts from sequestration and the continuing resolution will be "devastating" for the military, weaken the military and embolden U.S. enemies.
As an example, the Navy, because of the cuts, will reduce operations in the Pacific and the Middle East and several of its aircraft carriers and planes will be unready for combat, Thompson said.
"When you do that, you send a message to other countries that the bad things they might do will go unchallenged," Thompson said.