The Budget Control Act of 2011 — aka the debt ceiling deal — formalizes a set of national security relationships seldom identified for common treatment. According to the Act:
The term ‘security category’ includes discretionary appropriations associated with agency budgets for the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the intelligence community management account (95–0401–0–1–054), and all budget accounts in budget function 150 (international affairs).
One other category — non-security — is created by the Act.
The statutory language is not entirely clear to me, in fact it is very obscure to me. But in conversation with others I understand that by setting certain budget limitations on discretionary spending the debt deal is designed to encourage real horse trading on crafting a more reasonable budget.
For example, the debt deal says that unless other budget targets are achieved, discretionary spending shall be capped as follows:
With respect to fiscal year 2012- ‘‘(A) for the security category, $684,000,000,000 in new budget authority; and (B) for the nonsecurity category, $359,000,000,000 in new budget authority; ‘‘(2) with respect to fiscal year 2013— ‘‘(A) for the security category, $686,000,000,000 in new budget authority; and ‘‘(B) for the nonsecurity category, $361,000,000,000 in new budget authority;
These and other limitations on each of the two categories extended over the next ten years are so draconian that partisans of each category will supposedly be motivated to make other smarter and more specific cuts or authorize revenue increases in order to avoid the caps in the debt deal.
Whether or not mutual hostage taking ought be quite so central to crafting the federal budget is a topic for another day and, probably, a different blog.
Appropriate to the purposes of HLSWatch are the implications of Homeland Security sharing the same farrowing shed as defense, intelligence, the National Nuclear Security Administration, foreign affairs, and veterans.
A farrowing shed is where the mother sow gives birth and initially cares for her pig litter (I expose my rural Illinois origins). In making this analogy I am not trying to say anything about pork-barrel politics. Rather, I am suggesting a significant shift in the favored place of Homeland Security in the overall appropriations process.
For the last decade even when other appropriations were long-delayed, Homeland Security shared with Defense a place of honor at the top of the funding process. Instead of a pig litter, in prior years HS might have been compared to a fine mare, named National Security, giving birth to twins. Certainly HS is much smaller than the first-born Pentagon, but HS has been given lots of attention precisely because of its comparative weakness.
Now DHS and its components are just one of many national security piglets, and arguably the runt of the litter.
While homeland security has usually not needed to compete head-to-head over funding with other national security players, it does regularly compete over policy attention, political priorities, and prestige. It does not often win if the others play hard.
After a decade of war — and casualties — it is difficult to imagine significant cuts to the Department of Veterans Affairs and easy to imagine moral and pragmatic cause for increases. For example, VA benefits are specifically protected in the debt deal.
Just given what is happening with nuclear proliferation — and the comparatively small size of its budget — the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration is unlikely to be seen as a candidate for meaningful budget-cutting. Like a miniature albino pig, NNSA is more likely to be prized than paupered.
Foreign aid is a perpetual target, but it only totals $30 billion. Eliminate it and the long-term debt will barely twitch. The entire State Department annual operating budget is only a bit more than $14 billion.
Defense is and will remain the big boy of the lot. The intelligence community is increasingly yoked to Defense. The full intelligence budget — military and civilian — is mostly classified and tough to track, much less cut.
Within this “security category” the battle over priorities — financial and otherwise — will mostly be between the military, the diplomats, the spies, and the homeland security guys-and-gals. The other three have more history, stronger political, commercial, and academic networks, more intellectual capital, often dress better — though Coast Guard uniforms are stylish — and are usually much more effective exercising influence. Consider yesterday’s preemptive strike by Secretary Panetta and Admiral Mullen.
The real budget battle will be over Medicare cuts and revenue increases. What will the security category need to symbolically and substantively contribute to this fight? Certainly Defense will give the most. But whatever is required of the entire litter, the runt is likely to contribute proportionally more.