Insiders say Defense sequester 'somewhat likely' to take effect

Defense Department file photo

With no sign of compromise on Capitol Hill for a deal on the budget deficit and debt, National Journal's National Security Insiders are hedging on whether the across-the-board defense cuts that Pentagon officials have warned would be devastating to the military's capabilities will actually happen.

Amid talk that members might punt a budget deal into next year, 49 percent of Insiders said the so-called sequester mandating $600 billion in cuts over the next decade is "somewhat likely" to take effect.

"Washington will work hard to avoid a sequester that no one wants. If the financial crisis deepens and spreads, however, there may be little politicians can do to stop it," one Insider said.

Others were less sure of Congress's capabilities--and doubted its commitment to finding a solution. "The current Congress has consistently shown an inability to perform even the most basic tasks of governing. Both sides seem content to score points and [settle] scores rather than solving problems," one Insider said. "Sequester would be devastating, but I have no confidence in the Congress and the administration's capacity to fix it."

Thirty-one percent of Insiders said that the sequester is unlikely to take effect, with many counting on the lame-duck session for a temporary solution to stave off the deepest cuts and leave decision-making to the next Congress. That could leave a $57 billion cut hanging over the Pentagon’s head.

Both the defense industry and the Pentagon have to notify their workers no later than Nov. 2 -- just four days before the election -- if there will be layoffs due to the sweeping cuts. "All but the dimmest politicians in the safest seats will recognize that they must kick the sequester can down the legislative road for at least another year," one Insider said.

Twenty percent said that sequestration is very likely. "Until the votes are there to change it, sequestration is the law, and it will kick in before a fix gets the needed votes," one Insider said. "The usual congressional action, punting, will result in a debt-rating downgrade, and increased interest rates are worse than sequestration."

Separately, 71 percent of Insiders said that the European debt crisis will have a big impact on Europe's capacity to shoulder military obligations as part of NATO. "The United States has been shouldering the financial and physical costs of ensuring European security since WWII. The Euro crisis and drawdown in Afghanistan give NATO partners a great excuse to reduce Europeans' contributions to NATO," one Insider said.

Strong economies are essential to the security of NATO, another added. "Expect the financial crisis to lead to a significant restructuring of military obligations."

Others were less sure about the degree of impact. "With or without money, the Europeans will NOT spend it on defense."

See the rest of the survey results at the National Journal.

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