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House bill seeks to end downsizing of Army, Marine Corps

House bill seeks to end downsizing of Army, Marine Corps
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Defense hawks introduced legislation on Thursday that would end troop cuts for the Army and Marine Corps.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), comes two days after the administration released its 2017 budget request that includes reducing the Army to 460,000 active duty forces by the end of next year. 

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That number is slated to shrink further, to 450,000, by the end of 2018. The Marine Corps is slated to be reduced from 184,000 to 182,000 by the end of 2018. 

Turner and Gibson say those numbers are too low, and they want to halt the action so that the next president will have more flexibility for dealing with future threats. 

"To put it into perspective, when you look at land forces, the day before the 11th of September, 2001, you were looking at essentially for the active component, 480,000, almost 481,000," Gibson said, referring to the Army's levels. 

"But these plans, the administration right now plans to take it all the way down to 450,000 in the active component and 335,000 in the National Guard, and the same with the Army Reserve, I think they're taking it down too low," he added. 

"It is clear from all the testimony we've received and from the information we've received from the Army that this could break the Army," Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on land and air forces, told reporters. 

"That this could significantly hamper the next president of the United States in their opportunities and capabilities for our military to protect the country," he said. 

Gibson said assumptions have changed since the administration first drafted its plans to reduce force levels in 2013. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has emerged as a force, North Korea is saber-rattling and Russia has intervened in Ukraine.

Retired Army Gen. Carter Ham told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday that once an Army brigade combat team is deactivated, it could take up to three years to build it back up. 

Gibson called that "unacceptable," given the security environment. 

"That would be the next president's whole first term and we certainly can't predict at this point what threat that president might have," Turner added. 

Ham also said if there were a major war, service members would have no time at home between deployments. Gibson said that would stress troops and their families. 

The coming legislation ties into an effort by defense hawks to increase defense spending in 2017 above the figures set in last year's Bipartisan Budget Act. It set the Pentagon's base budget at $524 billion and additional war funding at $59 billion. 

Turner said he is discussing raising spending with House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.).

He acknowledged other GOP lawmakers oppose raising defense spending.

"It comes down to what is the will of the conference, what are the needs of our country, and how do we make sure we have the resources," he said. "There's a number of people I think who are not budget and defense hawks who want to go to a lower number, and the question people need to ask them, great what do you want the United States not to do to protect itself." 

--This report was updated at 12:13 p.m.