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Has budget-cutting 'hysteria' reached its peak?


If Washington cuts back defense spending, a man might come to your house, ring your doorbell and punch you in the face. Your spouse or significant other might leave you. Packs of radioactive zombies might rise from their graves and rampage through our towns and cities. An asteroid might collide with the Earth and kill all life on this planet. You might not get out onto 95 until almost 5 and then you'd just have to sit there in traffic for hours!

Defense advocates have gotten to the point at which they'll say almost anything to forestall the dreaded Doomsday Device budget sequestration, or spending cuts of that same magnitude imposed some other way. Secretary Panetta has said that if the full cuts happen, the U.S. unemployment rate could go up a whole percentage point to 10 percent -- a clear threat to President Obama, for whom jobs are job one in his reelection bid. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon warned this week the that full budget cuts might force the Pentagon to return to a draft. Here's what he said, per AP:

"'We also need to understand what it's going to mean to keep an all-volunteer force. Do we want to reinstitute the draft? Some of the cuts we're talking about would take over 200,000 out,' McKeon said Monday in an interview with Fox News."

The National Interest said the current climate was one of "growing hysteria." How desperate has it finally gotten? Even the man who often is portrayed as the villain here, Office of Management and Budget director Jacob Lew -- who you always read about sending ever-stricter budget numbers over to the Pentagon -- agrees that deep cuts would cause a lot of problems. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio reports that Lew and Panetta sent a letter to Republican lawmakers, including McKeon, warning about all the terrible things that would happen if the Doomsday Device went off.

So, to sum up: Congress, the Pentagon and the White House all agree that it would be bad if something nobody wants to happen were to happen. At this point, there apparently is no political hay to be made anymore; McKeon can't charge that Obama wants to disarm the Republic when the president's own budget maven is reading from McKeon's same sheet of music. In the movie version of Washington, this moment would arrive at the beginning of the third act, when Republicans and Democrats would come together to save the poor, put-upon military-industrial complex. (One imagines Panetta holding a bake sale to buy a bomber, as long envisioned by America's bumper stickers.) In real Washington, however, the story structure is seldom so clear.

Lew, Panetta, McKeon and others apparently believe there's a real possibility that the super committee could fail to reach an agreement and trigger the dead man's switch on the Doomsday Device. And even though we know no decision in Washington is ever final, and that some voices have said DoD should be exempted from the sequestration after all, that's apparently not enough of a guarantee for these leaders. So the budget-cutting rhetoric may not have reached its peak with warnings about 10 percent unemployment and the return of a draft -- it may just be getting started.

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