Defense chiefs warn against budget cuts, say it would endanger US security

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned Congress on Thursday against cutting the Pentagon’s annual budget, arguing it would endanger U.S. security and reduce the nation’s war-fighting capabilities.

In their most extensive public comments yet on potential budget reductions, the defense chiefs pushed back against an agreement reached earlier this year among more conservative House Republicans to cap all discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels, which has led to concerns about defense spending cuts.

“We would have to cut a significant amount of programs,” Milley told Congress at a House Appropriations Committee hearing, specifically citing programs to increase artillery production and shipbuilding.

“The other thing that would be cut is readiness,” he continued. “Our training would be reduced significantly … all of those things would come down, all your readiness levels, everything that has been achieved [in the last decade] would start going in the opposite direction.”

House Republicans are locked in a debt ceiling showdown with the White House as they look to reduce the national debt and slash what they consider out-of-control discretionary spending.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) agreed with more conservative lawmakers in January to cap all new discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels, although many in the GOP are opposed to reducing defense spending and have eyed larger nondefense cuts instead.

It remains unclear where exactly the GOP would make its desired budget cuts, and President Biden has pressured party leaders to release a specific budget proposal.

Some Republicans are eager to cut out defense programs they consider “woke,” including diversity, equity and inclusion training and efforts to address climate change, despite those programs making up a small portion of the budget.

The fiscal 2022 defense budget was about $780 billion, while the White House this month proposed a roughly $880 billion budget for all defense spending in fiscal 2024.

Austin said any cuts to the defense budget would impact the civilian workforce in the Pentagon and imperil cybersecurity programs amid threats from Chinese, Russian and Iranian malicious actors.

“If we cut those kinds of people, I think it will have a significant impact on our war-fighting capability,” the defense secretary said. “Cyber threats in this day and age are enormous and they come from every corner of the globe.”

“We need the right people, the talented people, to be able to continue to do the work we are doing,” Austin added.

Both Austin and Milley visited Capitol Hill on Thursday to testify about the Pentagon’s proposed 2024 budget as Congress considers the White House proposal released this month and works to authorize funds by the end of the year.

The Pentagon budget proposal includes large investments in the Pacific to deter Chinese aggression, programs to bolster the defense industrial base and hypersonic weapons development as well as the biggest pay raise for service members in 20 years.

Tags Defense Department Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Kevin McCarthy Lloyd Austin Lloyd Austin Mark Milley Mark Milley

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