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Panelists: Understating sequestration will hurt DoD--but so will overstating

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Either understating or overstating sequestration's effects on the military could lead to even deeper budget cuts, panelists at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said Jan. 28.

David Berteau, the director of the center's International Security Program, said that if sequestration goes into effect and its consequences aren't visible to politicians, Congress will be tempted to find more cuts in the Defense Department budget than the department can sustain.

He said his "nightmare scenario" would be that sequestration goes into effect and then, weeks later, as the continuing resolution is about to expire on March 27, Congress leans further on the Defense budget.

Members of Congress, Berteau said, might think, "We just took $45 billion out of DoD in FY '13. Nobody's dead, nobody's bleeding, nobody's been fired, nobody's been furloughed yet, nobody's been laid off yet. Why don't we do it again?"

Fellow panelist Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, cautioned though that hyperbole about sequestration could lead to the same outcome.

"Sequestration might really go into effect on March 1, and when all of these dire predictions about all these major program cancelations, base closures...when it doesn't happen, you're going to lose credibility," he said.

Harrison said it will be key to communicate the timeline for when to expect sequestration's impacts to be noticeable.

Gordon Adams, a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center and a former Office of Management and Budget official, said all the various concerns about sequestration have been a distraction from more important budget issues.

"Whether sequester happens or not, we are in a drawdown," Adams said. "The noise will be about sequester, the noise will be about CR versus a fiscal 2013 bill," but, he said, "it's the long term that is really key."

Acquisition will shrink, as will operations and maintenance, though to a lesser degree, Adams said. "Pay and benefits will scarcely be touched" though, he predicted.

For more:
- go to the CSIS event webpage (archived audio available)

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