Senate GOP presses DOD for wish lists

A group of Senate Republicans is pressing the Pentagon to submit "wish lists" to Congress, arguing lawmakers cannot determine the military's budgetary needs without them. 

Due to the "far-reaching implications of the strategic shifts" proposed by the White House for fiscal 2013, Congress needs "a full accounting" of critical service needs omitted from the Pentagon's initial budget proposal, the senators wrote in a series of letters sent to the service chiefs on Tuesday. 

"Without your input, we do not believe that Congress can accurately determine the level of resources necessary to provide for our national defense," said the letter from Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.). 

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The service chiefs have announced they are ending the long-standing practice of sending annual budget wish lists to Capitol Hill. They say the budget proposals submitted to the DOD for fiscal 2013 include everything they need, given the financial pressure the department is under.  

But the decision to end the wish lists has drawn protests from Republicans, who have questioned whether military leaders are withholding their true opinion of President Obama's proposed cuts to defense spending.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has accused the Obama administration of injecting politics into the decision.

“I don’t think anybody is buying the line that the services don’t want to come in and tell people what they need,” Forbes told The Hill earlier this month. “I’ve never known a situation where the services say, ‘We don’t want to come in and let you know the needs we have.’ " 

The wish lists have traditionally been viewed as a road map for Congress, which lawmakers could use to base pending amendments to the defense spending bills. 

But critics of the process claim the lists, known as legislative proposals packages in Pentagon parlance, were a way for the DOD to circumvent the administration's budget priorities via Congress. 

Pentagon officials have already accounted for half of the nearly $500 billion in defense budget cuts set for the next decade by the White House in the DOD's fiscal 2013 proposal.

But the senators who wrote to the service chiefs said they are concerned that the roughly $250 billion in cuts might limit the services' options in "force structure, end strength and modernization ... in ways that may not be immediately obvious."

"Congress has a responsibility to gain a more complete understanding of any trade-offs in this budget request ... before it makes any decisions relating to defense authorizations and appropriations," the Republicans wrote.

Those plans do not even take into account the additional $500 billion in DOD cuts slated to go into effect next year. 

Those cuts, on top of the $500 billion mandated by the Budget Control Act, leave the Pentagon staring down the barrel of a potential $1 trillion reduction in defense spending. 

House Armed Services Committee members will begin rolling out their drafts of spending legislation for the Pentagon beginning on Thursday. The full Armed Services panel is slated to mark up the fiscal 2013 spending package on May 9, with their Senate counterparts expected to issue their version later that month.