GOP, Dems fight over planned troop cuts

GOP, Dems fight over planned troop cuts
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The Army will on Thursday announce massive troop cuts over the next two years that will affect bases all over the country. 

The planned cuts of 40,000 soldiers, as well as 17,000 civilian layoffs, will be politically painful for lawmakers from both parties who have fought to protect troops, civilians and bases in their states. 

And the pain may not end there. The Army has warned it may have to cut 30,000 more soldiers if Congress does not reverse caps on the Pentagon's budget mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act. 

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Although the troop cuts were long anticipated, they will add pressure to an already fraught budget situation, which both sides are blaming the other for as Congress flirts with another shutdown in October. 

Republicans are attempting to pass spending bills that would adhere to the caps, yet boost the Pentagon's budget through a war fund not subject to the same limits. 

Democrats have refused to consider those proposals until Republicans sit down with them to discuss lifting the caps on defense and non-defense spending alike. 

The White House, for its part, has threatened to veto the GOP bills. 

So far, neither side is backing down. On Wednesday, both sides blasted the cuts and pinned the blame on each other. 

“Planned reductions in Army force levels have been public for some time and are a result of hundreds of billions of dollars in defense cuts since President Obama took office,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. 

Democrats, who also objected vigorously to the cuts, blamed the Republicans. 

”I want to be very clear about why this is happening. Even though the Republican budget added money for the military, they did it through a gimmick [and] the military cannot pay for ground strength through a contingency fund -- a one year budget gimmick,” Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade McCaskill: 'Mitch McConnell has presided over absolutely destroying Senate norms' Claire McCaskill: Young girls 'are now aspiring' to be like Warren, Klobuchar after debate MORE (D-Mo.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday. 

Republicans also blasted the cuts at a time when the U.S. is facing major threats, including a war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

“The protection of our national defense and the security of the American people must come first,” added Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. 

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMartha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter Meghan McCain blasts NY Times: 'Everyone already knows how much you despise' conservative women GOP senator calls CNN reporter a 'liberal hack' when asked about Parnas materials MORE (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would continue working with House members to craft a final 2016 defense authorization bill that adheres to the Republican budget plan, despite the president’s veto. 

“We can’t let that affect it. We have to do the best job we can,” he told The Hill. 

If there is no resolution by Sept. 30, the government would either shut down, or Congress would have to temporarily extend 2015 spending levels in a continuing resolution, which would prevent authorized pay raises for troops and also stall new projects and spending for the Pentagon. 

McCaskill said she was "hopeful" Republicans would begin talks by then. 

“We've got plenty of time to sit down and hammer out and negotiate, and come to an agreement that no one's completely happy with, but one that will ultimately work for America's military and America's families," she said.

Defense budget experts are less sanguine. 

Justin T. Johnson, a defense budget expert at the Heritage Foundation, said lifting the caps would be a “tough nut to crack.”

The caps went into effect in 2013, after Republicans and Democrats failed to agree on deficit reduction. The caps will cut $500 billion from the Pentagon’s budget and $500 billion from non-defense agencies over 10 years. The cuts came on top of $487 billion in cuts the Pentagon had already planned to take. 

The Army first announced the planned troop cuts in 2013 after the budget caps kicked in, warning they would occur if the caps remained in place. 

The cuts will bring the Army’s end strength from 490,000 down to 450,000 by 2017. Troop levels reached a high of 570,000 during the peak of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. 

Army officials have warned that if the cuts reduce its strength to 420,000, it could put the United States’s chances of winning a war in jeopardy. 

Congress partially lifted the caps in 2014 and 2015, after reaching a two-year budget deal, but they are slated to return in full in October. While hawkish members of both parties have urged their colleagues to lift the caps permanently, some groups in both parties have opposed doing so. 

Johnson, a former congressional aide, said the Army cuts could change their minds. 

“There will be a lot of very upset communities, and that will certainly lead to upset members of Congress,” he said.

One of those members is Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), who said his state will lose 4,350 troops — 950 from Georgia's Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Air Field, and 3,400 from Fort Benning. 

“With global instability on the rise and increasingly unpredictable threats, this draw down is short sighted," Carter said in a statement. 

"I believe the number one responsibility of the federal government is to provide a strong national defense and I am increasingly concerned that we will render ourselves unable to respond to the threats we face around the globe," he said.