Pentagon budget under scrutiny

A satellite image shows the five-sided Pentagon building December 28, 2000 in Arlington, Va.

Tess Vigeland: President Obama took over budget talks in Washington today. He met with Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. Last week, talks with Republicans hit an impasse over raising taxes. But that August 2nd deadline is still looming. If Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling, the country defaults.

The idea-du-jour is cuts in defense spending, something that more Republicans are reportedly willing to consider. But how do you cut the defense budget with two wars that still need funding? Marketplace's David Gura reports from Washington.


David Gura: Some hawks have argued any cut would put U.S. soldiers at risk.

Gordon Adams: That's just balderdash.

Gordon Adams oversaw the national security budget during the Clinton administration.

Adams: You cannot deal with a $700 billion defense budget -- which is two times what it was 10 years ago -- and tell me that taking any dollar out of it is a sacrifice of national security. It's simply not true.

Adams says if I gave him a red pen, he'd start with the one and a half million men and women in the armed forces.

Adams: If we took it down to about 1.2 million, we'd save considerable sums of money, probably $100 billion a year.

In the past, we've cut defense budgets when wars wound down. David Berteau is a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He says important questions need answers.

David Berteau: What are we going to use this military for? How big does it need to be? How do we shape it and size it?

And Berteau says the Obama administration still has a lot to learn from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Berteau: How you mix and match old technology -- airplanes and ships -- from the past, with the new technology -- sensors and unmanned systems -- still needs to be worked out. And there's a lot of opportunity there for reductions, but that's over the long haul, not in the next year or two.

Gordon Adams says the services could scale back on trucks and ammunition, equipment that eats up the lion's share of the Pentagon budget. But Adams says he doesn't expect Congress to make any real progress until after Election Day 2012.

Adams: And then they're going to see what the outcome is, and how the dust settles, and then there will be room for a long-term budget deal.

In Washington, I'm David Gura for Marketplace.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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