By Cameron Joseph - 03/02/14 10:52 AM EST
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in an interview broadcast Sunday defended the Obama administration's proposed downsizing of the military in its new budget proposal, arguing that the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has created a new military reality.
Hagel also placed part of the blame for the proposed shifts in spending on Congress.
"By the way, it isn't me cutting the budget. It's the Congress's decision on sequestration," Hagel said. "So it isn't secretary of Defense or the president doing this. And I think we should clear that up a little bit here, too. Where are we making decisions, and how do we make them? That's the responsibility I have. But also, the fiscal constraints that are being placed on the Pentagon to make very tough choices here are very significant. So, what we're talking about is gradually reducing our active duty strength by about 10 percent. But I don't think that's an astoundingly large cut as we adjust. And we're still going to need a big Army."
Parts of Hagel's recommendations have come under fire, especially from hawkish Republicans. But Hagel pushed back on claims the plan would cut benefits to military veterans.
"This isn't just an arbitrary, unilateral approach to trying to slow the growth just to slow the growth. We've got to look at the long-term commitments to our people. Half of our budget today in the Pentagon goes to pay compensation, retirement and medical care. And that will increase significantly. We're not cutting. We're proposing slowing growth in certain areas," he said. "We don't think it breaks faith with our people. But we have to reset, reposition. I've got to be able to keep a modern military."