WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's chain of subsidized grocery stores, major weapons systems and troop strength may be on the chopping block to pay for as much as $825 billion in budget reductions that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said would inflict "real damage" on the U.S. military.
The Defense Department is facing the largest reduction in spending since the end of the Cold War, when military budgets declined by about 35 percent in constant dollar terms between 1985 and 1998, according to Pentagon data.
To meet its targets, the Pentagon may have to consider cuts in a range of programs, from the number of F-35 fighter jets to the $9 billion in subsidies for the Defense Commissary Agency, which operates 252 grocery stores around the world, including at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Reducing the 1.43 million active duty forces may yield the most savings.
President Barack Obama signed a measure Tuesday raising the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt ceiling until 2013 and reducing $2.4 trillion in spending over the next decade. The deal requires a $325 billion reduction in the defense budget in the first phase over 10 years. Officials would begin by eliminating $28 billion from the 2012 budget request.
An additional $500 billion in military spending may be cut over the next decade, for a total of $825 billion, if a special committee of lawmakers can't agree by November on $1.2 trillion in deficit savings. That spending reduction would "trigger a round of dangerous across-the-board defense cuts" that may do "real damage" to the military, Panetta said, calling it a "doomsday mechanism."
Defense spending, including war costs, rose to $717 billion in fiscal year 2010, or a 92 percent increase from 1998.