NO 'PLAN B' FOR DEFENSE CUTS
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said that plans are nothing, but planning is everything because no war plan survives first contact with the enemy. In the decades since, the Pentagon has excelled at nothing as much as planning for every conceivable contingency.
So it is more than a little surprising that a range of Defense Department and military officials say there is no formal planning underway on how the Pentagon budget could or should be trimmed further. Cuts of $500 billion over the next 10 years, representing 5 to 8 percent of the Pentagon's budget, would begin to take effect if the White House and Congress fail to reach an accord before the end of the year. The reductions would occur across the board. Even if there is a deal on taxes and spending to avoid the automatic cuts, it is a safe bet that the deal would impose additional budget reductions on the Pentagon.
Pentagon officials do not say it out loud, but their public inaction reflects a fear that any planning on cuts would amount to an invitation to Congress to make them. The Pentagon could then face larger reductions than it otherwise might as part of any deficit deal.
What programs could be vulnerable? Experts offer varying proposals, of course, depending on what branch of the military they think is most important and what sort of world they predict that the United States will face.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, noted at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that there are only three large baskets of spending from which savings can be found: personnel costs; equipment costs; and training costs, such as how many bullets are available for firing on practice ranges and how many hours can be logged in jet fighter training flights.
A study released this week by Todd Harrison and Mark Gunzinger of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington research group, recommended protecting a series of military capabilities, which it called "the crown jewels," necessary in a future combat environment. They included: special operations forces, cyberspace capabilities, underwater warfare systems and long-range surveillance and strike aircraft, both manned and unmanned.
Gordon Adams, a former Pentagon official in the Reagan administration, has said there is agreement among analysts across the political spectrum on the way ahead in military spending. In an essay for the website of Foreign Policy magazine, he said that long-term wars of attrition and nation-building, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq, were "over," allowing the ground forces to shrink. Analysts, he wrote, also agree that the United States can reduce its strategic nuclear arsenal, but that research and development should be protected.
Any future cuts for the Pentagon would come on top of $487 billion in spending cuts the Obama administration plans to make over the next decade.
Pentagon officials say that they are aware that a new period has begun. Their goal is to limit the cuts they face.
NEW YORK TIMES
CBO: DEBT LIMIT OK UNTIL MID-FEBRUARY
The Treasury Department is estimated to have enough authority to continue borrowing through "at least mid-February" 2013, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report Thursday that will affect the negotiations over the fiscal cliff.
The United States, with $16.3 trillion in debt, is nearing the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling and Congress must act to raise it. The CBO's estimate assumes that Treasury will use a series of "extraordinary" steps, as it has done in the past. The estimate is subject to adjustment based on revenue collections and payments.
The Treasury Department has said publicly only that it expects to use up the extraordinary measures by early 2013.
BIDEN URGES TAX CUT FOR MIDDLE CLASS
Vice President Joe Biden went on a Costco shopping spree Thursday and called for Congress to extend middle-class tax cuts as part of a deal to avoid the looming "fiscal cliff."
Biden, who flashed a store membership card as he entered Washington, D.C.'s first Costco on its opening day, said consumer confidence is growing -- as demonstrated by the huge crowd at the gleaming new store. "The last thing we need to do is dash that" confidence by imposing a tax increase of about $2,200 for a typical middle-class family, he said.
Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to expire Jan. 1, the same time as across-the-board spending cuts are scheduled to take effect. The combination of tax hikes and spending cuts could spike unemployment and bring on a new recession. Biden and President Obama have pressed Congress to extend middle-class tax cuts while raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, while congressional Republicans have pushed to extend cuts for all taxpayers. Biden said he was optimistic about reaching a deal.
At the end of his visit, Biden thanked reporters for shopping with him. Then, looking down at his overstuffed cart -- filled with an apple pie, a stack of children's books for a Delaware charity, a 32-inch Panasonic TV, fire logs and other items -- he joked, "now you know why my wife doesn't let me shop alone."
PANEL BACKS UPDATE ON E-MAIL PRIVACY
Digital privacy laws in the United States just got one step closer to the 21st century.
A Senate committee on Thursday backed privacy protections that would require the government to obtain a warrant from a judge before gaining access to e-mail and other electronic communications.
The 1986 Electronic Privacy Communications Act was written before the Web was born and long before Americans started sending, receiving and storing so much of their personal communications and documents online. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is now trying to make sure that the government needs to prove probable cause before rummaging through it all.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
ROCKING A LITTLE LOVE FOR ELVIS
With lawmakers singing the blues about the looming "fiscal cliff," why not a resolution to show their support for designating Jan. 8 as Elvis Presley Day?
Ten members of Congress have signed onto the resolution to show they have a big hunk o' love for the king of rock 'n' roll. Presley, born Jan. 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Miss., died at age 42. But it's uncertain whether the measure will come before the House before Congress leaves.
LOS ANGELES TIMES