Armed Services GOP: Don’t destroy military effectiveness with cuts

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday questioned White House plans to trim the defense budget by $78 billion over five years and slammed Pentagon brass for keeping the panel in the dark about the move.

Pentagon leaders say they will seek $553 billion in the 2012-spending plan they will send to Capitol Hill in the coming weeks. Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn told the panel Pentagon leaders are confident that spending plan will be sufficient to meet the military’s needs.

ADVERTISEMENT
But weapons program cuts in recent years, including those announced earlier this month by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and proposed troop reductions seem familiar to Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.). He compared those moves to the late 1990s, “when we hollowed out the force.”

“You can’t pay for entitlements by cutting defense,” Akin said. “But you can destroy our country by cutting defense.” 

While defense spending in 2010 accounted for 20 percent of federal discretionary spending, Akin said domestic “entitlement” programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the interest on the national debt equal all federal revenue. 

Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) endorsed the Pentagon’s efficiencies effort, which unearthed $150 billion in savings and helped the Defense Department offset the White House’s $78 billion cut. But he made clear he is ready to stand against substantial hardware cuts or large reductions in force size.

“I will not support initiatives that will leave our military less capable and less ready to fight,” McKeon said. “I cannot say it strongly enough. I will not support any measures that stress our forces and jeopardize the lives of our men and women in uniform.” 

McKeon and other GOP members also want to know where the $78 billion will come from and allege administration officials failed to inform them that the cuts were even under consideration.

The Republican resistance came less than 24 hours after President Obama, in the State of the Union address, called for significant reductions. 

Obama announced his 2012 budget would propose freezing non-domestic spending at 2008 levels, generating $400 billion in savings.

Gordon Adams, a former senior Office of Management and Budget official, said the president “is in lockstep with a growing consensus” about spending cuts.

“House Majority Leader Eric Cantor [R-Va.] and House Budget [Committee] Chairman Paul Ryan [R-Wis.], among many others, have been adamant that no part of government will escape scrutiny,” Adams said Wednesday.

But the president signaled cuts will be needed from other parts of the federal budget — and the Defense Department accounts for a huge chunk of what is left.

“To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough. It won’t,” Obama said.

Several Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee endorsed the proposed Pentagon spending cuts, and made clear they are ready to trim further.

Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking member, and Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) noted Pentagon spending has grown over the last decade, and would continue to do so under the Obama administration’s budget plans.

Before removing the $78 billion the White House wants to cut, defense budgets would be 17 percent higher in several years than current levels; after factoring in that reduction, “it’s still 14 percent higher,” Andrews said.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) called cutting defense spending “a courageous” move, adding that as U.S. forces wrap up in Iraq and begin to do so in Afghanistan, defense budgets will have to be trimmed “to help get our fiscal house in order.”

Like many other GOP panel members, McKeon said he is most concerned with the decision made by the Office of the Defense Secretary and Marine Corps to end the $14 billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) because it is too expensive. 

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), for instance, questioned what he portrayed as the Pentagon’s uneven logic on two programs aimed at fielding weapons that would operate in shallow water.

One, the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program, was recently accelerated; the other, EFV, is on the chopping block. 

It remains unclear whether EFV proponents in Congress have the votes to force the Pentagon to keep the program alive.

Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford said the General Dynamics-made EFV simply became too expensive. Had the Marines continued that program, it would have placed other hardware programs the service needs at risk by siphoning away billions of dollars for years to come, Dunford said.

In an odd exchange, when Hunter asked Dunford what drove the EFV cost growth, the assistant commandant cited changes to the overall number the service planned to buy. There were other factors, but for those, he referred Hunter to prime contractor General Dynamics.