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Why Pentagon, Facing ‘Doomsday’ Spending Cuts, Refuses to Plan for Them

The Pentagon is making no plans to prepare for half-a-trillion dollars in mandatory budget cuts scheduled to take effect in less than a year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in testimony Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Such mandatory cuts – triggered after the so-called congressional “super committee” failed in November to reach consensus on deficit-cutting – represent a “doomsday scenario” for the American military that would “virtually devastate” national defense, senior defense officials have repeatedly warned/.../

The Pentagon's position on the mandatory cuts is ill-advised, some defense analysts warn. Refusing to prepare any sort of blueprint for cuts of that magnitude – particularly given their supposedly dire consequences – is not only counterintuitive, but also dangerous, they say.

“If they fail to do that, they run the risk of being unprepared for what is a perfectly foreseeable contingency,” says Todd Harrison, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “There are other options here other than saying, ‘Doomsday,’ folding your cards, and going home/.../”

“If I were Secretary Panetta, I’d probably have a small group sworn to secrecy ... [preparing] something,” says Andrew Krepinevich, who served during the 1980s in the Office of Net Assessment, the Defense Department's internal think tank.

Politically, such planning is difficult, Dr. Krepinevich acknowledges. Panetta has “already gone out on a limb,” warning of raining "cats and dogs and all this stuff," so it’s tough to walk back from the ledge and say, "No I didn’t really mean that."

Other analysts concede this point. “It’s part of the political game, right? It’s part of the political calculation,” Mr. Harrison says. “The thinking is, ‘If we go ahead and get out in front of this and we say here are the real things we’ll cut that get us down to [the target budget], and you know what, I’m going to do it in a targeted, strategic way that makes the best of what you’re giving me,’ then that’s going to start to look attractive to people in Congress and may actually make it more likely to occur.”

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