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Molly Moorhead
By Molly Moorhead August 24, 2012

Funding provided, but sequester looms

In a national security speech at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, Eric Cantor made the case for why Republicans needed to be in charge in Washington. That was in May 2010. Five months later, voters delivered them a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Cantor, who became House Majority Leader, described President Barack Obama as unsteady when confronting enemies and uncommitted to our allies.

"Congress is charged with the responsibility to raise and support Armies, to provide and maintain a Navy,” Cantor said. "It is time for conservatives who believe in peace through strength and the righteousness of our cause to stand up -- to serve as a check and balance on the administration's policies. ... We will once again fund weapons research and development not just to meet the threats of today, but those of tomorrow.”

We talked to Todd Harrison, a fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, for some insights on defense research funding. He said that for fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration requested $76.1 billion for "research, development, tests and evaluations.” Congress gave him more -- $80 billion. But for FY 2012, the president requested $71.4 billion, and Congress appropriated $75 billion. Over the two years, the requests and the appropriations are a wash.

We realize Cantor's promise was vague, and it was curious wording to say those efforts would be funded "once again.”

"It's always had some funding,” Harrison said. "In some years they've gotten more. In the past year they got less.”

We found no evidence that weapons research is currently under-funded, but it's worth noting the implications of sequestration, should that take effect in 2013.

During debt-ceiling negotiations in the summer of 2011, Congress and Obama came to a hard-fought agreement to raise the nation's debt limit but establish a supercommittee to come up with solutions for cutting the deficit. The agreement said that if the supercommittee failed, more than $100 billion in mandatory cuts – half from the military, half from domestic programs -- would take effect.

Well, the supercommittee did fail, and now those cuts (the sequestration) are looming unless Congress and the White House act again.

A $50 billion cut in defense spending overall would surely eat into research funding, and that's the agreement House Republicans signed onto. Republicans have said they hope to see the defense cuts restored, but no deal has been worked out yet. It's possible that ending the sequester will be a problem left to the next Congress.

Overall, we rate this a Compromise.

Our Sources

Heritage Foundation blog, "Rep. Eric Cantor Speaks on National Security,” May 4, 2010

Interview with Todd Harrison, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Aug. 20, 2012

House roll call vote on Budget Control Act, Aug. 1, 2011

Washington Post, "Zients: Sequestration 'not the responsible way' to cut debt,” Aug. 2, 2012, via Nexis

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