The specter of sequestration
Damocles, the Greek courtier of the 4th century BC, who sat through a feast with a sword suspended over him by a single horse hair, circa 350 BC. (Getty Images)
February 24th, 2012
09:00 AM ET

The specter of sequestration

Editor's NoteMackenzie Eaglen is a fellow in national security at the American Enterprise Institute. Michael O’Hanlon is senior fellow at Brookings and author of The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity.

By Mackenzie Eaglen and Michael O’Hanlon - Special to CNN

Last year, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the “super committee,” failed to agree on over a trillion dollars in budget cuts. This failure has triggered the looming “sequestration” of an additional $500 billion in defense dollar cuts over the next 10 years, among other mechanical cuts to other parts of the budget. But you wouldn’t know that from the budget released this week by President Barack Obama. Rather, Obama’s budget numbers hue closely to those in last year’s debt ceiling deal known as the Budget Control Act, as if the super committee had never existed. This is understandable at one level. But ignoring reality will not make the most drastic cuts to the military in U.S. history go away.

Sequestration was written into the budget control act as a Sword of Damocles over the super committee and Congress. Few favored it or even considered it a plausible outcome, and even today, not many appear to take it seriously. Rather, Congress, the White House and the Pentagon have embraced the hopeful but irrational belief that the necessary spending cuts or revenue increases to offset restoring the next $500 billion will happen during the expected lame duck session of Congress after the November elections. The hope appears to be that one party will have a clear mandate by then, or that a looming crisis will force rationality upon lawmakers. But the crisis is already looming. And since when do we expect clear mandates from elections, especially when the country’s politics are so closely divided? FULL POST