Joint Chiefs warn: 'We can't do more with less'

The nation's top military officer praised the troops on Monday in his annual holiday message while pressuring Congress to accept the “hard choices” he says are needed under a tightened budget.

"The Joint Chiefs and I remain concerned that we still lack support for the reforms necessary to ensure that you are combat ready and to preserve military options for our nation," Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a video.

"Simply said, we can't do more with less. Sequestration, if fully implemented, will diminish our advantages over our adversaries."

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The Pentagon has urged Congress to overturn the automatic defense budget cuts known as sequestration, which last year imposed cuts of $500 billion over a decade on the Pentagon.

Military leaders say the cuts could force them to cut at least 20,000 soldiers and thousands of Marines and to retire at least one aircraft carrier.

The Pentagon has pushed several proposals to try and save money, but many of them — including the retirement of the A-10 fighter jet — have been fiercely resisted by members of Congress.

"We need the force structure we've asked for, after making many hard choices, not the legacy structure that in some cases we're being required to maintain," Dempsey said.

The Pentagon has proposed a new round of base closures, which lawmakers rejected out hand. Military leaders have also been pushing unsuccessfully to reduce troop compensation, arguing that benefits and healthcare eat up too much of the budget.

The 2015 defense policy bill passed by Congress last week allows the Pentagon to make small steps on those proposals, but the fight over the cuts will be renewed when the Defense Department unveils its 2016 budget request in March.

Congress reached a two-year deal to partially lift sequestration for the Pentagon, but the cuts are scheduled to come back in full in 2016.

Dempsey noted that the military has been tasked with countering the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, reassuring allies threatened by Russia and dealing with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

"We still need more certainty and flexibility in our budget, and we have to match our resources with our aspirations," he said.