Representative Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican and a leading voice of the Tea Party movement, said that while he believes the across-the-board defense cut is not the best approach, the sequester cuts are better than “having no cuts at all.”
The warnings about the impact of the cuts were also dismissed by a number of budget watchdog groups that participated in a conference call last week about the sequester.
“A whole bunch of Chicken Littles are running around,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “The reality is we can do this level of cuts. If we can’t defend the country on half a trillion dollars [a year] then we are doing something wrong.”
Democrats such as US Representative Niki Tsongas of Lowell, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, agreed.
She said the sequester formula is not the most effective way to make spending cuts, but also said she believes the US military will maintain its technical edge even if the cuts take effect as scheduled.
“As we draw down from Afghanistan and Iraq, there is room for savings in the Defense Department,” she said. “I feel confident that given the extraordinary capability of the defense companies that they are very well positioned to provide for technology that will help us address emerging threats – even in an environment of fiscal constraints.”
Those who believe the sequestration cuts will hamper some Pentagon operations agree that Congress could lessen the blow by giving the Department of Defense even more flexibility in applying the cuts.
Michele Flournoy, who served as undersecretary of defense for policy during Obama’s first term, said that over the longer term, the sequestration cuts “would reduce funding to the point where you have a real readiness crisis that could affect the options available to the president or how quickly US forces are able to respond to a crisis.”
But, she added, “If you get a budget deal, the Department [of Defense] can limit some of the damage because it would buy the leadership some discretion to choose where to take cuts. They could have the ability to protect their highest priorities.”
In a statement that many saw as going off the administration’s script, the new secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, also sought to assure the public in a Friday press conference that the cuts will not make the nation more vulnerable.
The United States, he said, “has the best fighting force, the most capable fighting force, the most powerful fighting force in the world.”
Asked about the impact of the sequestration cuts, he insisted that the Pentagon “will manage these issues.”
“These are adjustments. We anticipated these kinds of realities, and we will do what we need to do to assure the capabilities of our forces.”