December 20, 2014

Syrian Situation Highlights Sequester Concerns

  • Defense spending accounts for roughly half of the portion of the budget referred to as discretionary spending, which is determined through the annual...

As Congress considers authorizing military action in Syria, many lawmakers and analysts have turned their attention to the possible impact on the defense budget.

The cost of a limited strike in Syria would likely be small relative to the $680 billion that the United States spent on defense last year. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said efforts to prevent the use or proliferation of chemical weapons in Syria could average $1 billion per month.

However, Congress may find it politically difficult to justify a new military expenditure for Syria while cutting other defense and domestic discretionary spending across the board.

“Going to the public and saying, ‘We're authorizing military action, and by the way we're cutting the military budget or we're going to shut down the government,' is a very inconsistent message,” says Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert L. Bixby.

The situation with Syria, he hopes, can stimulate a more realistic discussion about the defense budget and serve as a reminder that all the discretionary programs, including defense, are being squeezed by sequester.