CNN Fact Check: Trimming the Pentagon

Story highlights

  • The Pentagon budget faces both planned and automatic cuts
  • Congress, commanders and contractors have raised alarms about coming reductions
  • But Washington would stay tops in arms spending worldwide

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney criticized planned cuts to the U.S. defense budget Thursday night, accusing President Barack Obama of weakening future American power.

"His trillion-dollar cuts to our military will eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs, and also put our security at greater risk," the former Massachusetts governor said in his acceptance speech to the GOP national convention in Tampa, Florida. The line was met with boos by the delegates in the convention hall.

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The facts:

There are indeed major cuts coming down the pipeline for the Pentagon, partly as a result of the failure of a special congressional committee set up after last year's standoff over the federal debt ceiling to reach any agreement on future cuts.

The U.S. military saw its budget peak at about $700 billion when it was fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration has asked Congress for $613 billion for 2013 -- a "base budget" of $525 billion and nearly $89 billion for the war in Afghanistan, which Obama is attempting to wind down.

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The military establishment was facing about $450 billion in reductions over 10 years under Obama administration plans. But it's now looking at an additional $600 billion, a 10-year reduction as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the law that ended a Republican-led standoff over raising the federal debt ceiling.

    That law, which Obama signed after weeks of intense squabbles with Congress, set in motion a plan for $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts starting in 2013. Half of those would come from the Pentagon unless a lawmakers came up with an alternate plan.

    They didn't, and those cuts are an element of the so-called fiscal "cliff" that Washington faces at year's end unless it finds some way to avert them.

    Military leaders have expressed concern about the scale of the cuts. And members of Congress are worried that their constituents will be out of work if military spending gets cut. A defense trade group, the Aerospace Industries Association, estimated in July that more than 1 million jobs in the defense industry could be lost if sequestration cuts come through, but that figure has been disputed.

    But other analysts say that the Pentagon has plenty of room to cut without endangering national security. The United States would still spend far more on defense than any other major world power -- nearly six times its nearest rival, China, and vastly more than countries like North Korea and Iran.


    Romney's "trillion-dollar" figure is roughly accurate. But the cuts aren't entirely of Obama's making, and their impact on national security is a subject of some debate.

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