Budget Experts Disagree over Impact of BCA

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, budget experts disagreed over the impact of the 2011 Budget Control Act on military readiness. Committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called on the Senate to repeal “this mindless sequestration,” referring to the automatic budget cuts to military programs enforced by the BCA’s rules. Dakota Wood, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said the US military was now “smaller, older, and less ready than at any time since the 1930?s” primarily because the BCA has robbed it of “stability over time.” He also said the BCA “was never intended to provide adequate security. … It was supposed to be painful.” Thomas Mahnken, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, agreed that, in large part because of sequestration, “we’ve neglected the capabilities needed to deter, and if necessary, wage high-end warfare” in a world dominated by the emerging great power threats of Russia and China.

But when Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) asked the witnesses whether the BCA should be repealed, Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for Progress, demurred. The 2016 defense baseline budget “was more than adequate to deal with the threats we face,” he said. He also noted that Congress had given the DOD “$100 billion in relief since the BCA through OCO funding.” Pointing to the “cost growth in weapons systems” over recent years, Korb said, “I don’t believe the DOD has a resource problem. … I believe it has a management problem.” He pointed to the example of President Donald Trump calling for greater efficiencies in acquisitions programs, saying “I commend President Trump for talking about the F-35.” Still, senators seemed united in their view that the BCA has been uniquely harmful. “Sequestration is a blunt force object,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), “that would never be used at a Fortune 500 company.”