Senators: Defense cuts are 'national security crisis of the first order'

Senators: Defense cuts are 'national security crisis of the first order'

The leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee are pushing their colleagues to overturn the defense cuts scheduled for this year under sequestration

Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMellman: Where are good faith and integrity? GOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech MORE (R-Ariz.) and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedPapering over climate change impacts is indefensible Why Democrats are pushing for a new nuclear policy GOP chairman: US military may have to intervene in Venezuela if Russia does MORE (D-R.I.) say defense spending for 2016 should be restored to $577 billion, the level planned before sequestration was created by the Budget Control Act (BCA). They also want to fund the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), typically known as war funding, to the tune of $51 billion. 

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With global crises and threats increasing, the limitations of the Budget Control Act "have become a national security crisis of the first order," McCain and Reed wrote in a letter to the Senate Budget Committee.

"At a time when real worldwide threats are growing, we are compounding those dangers with a national security crisis of our own making."  

The White House has proposed a base defense budget of $535 billion for 2016, which is already $35 billion over the $500 billion allowed under the Budget Control Act. Lawmakers will either have to lift the cap, make $35 billion in cuts to the defense budget, or allow the cuts to kick in automatically and indiscriminately. 

Congress partially lifted the spending caps in 2014 and 2015, but they are scheduled to return in October with the new fiscal year. 

Sequestration, a mechanism passed by Congress in the BCA, is set to slash the government's budget by $1 trillion over 10 years, with $500 billion of that coming from the Pentagon's budget alone. The cuts took effect after lawmakers were unable to reach a deal on spending and tax reform.

Reversing sequestration would require an act of law by Congress, but whether lawmakers will be able to agree on tax and spending reform remains to be seen.

Fiscal hawks and liberals are wary of increased defense spending, and some liberals say any lifting of defense cuts should be accompanied by lifting cuts on non-defense programs.

McCain and Reed addressed Republican and Democrat critics of a spending increase in their letter.

“[All] four of the military service chiefs testified that American lives are being put at risk by the caps on defense spending mandated in the BCA," they wrote.

“Are we comfortable, for example, with fewer Navy ships to ensure freedom of commerce in the Pacific amid China’s military modernization? Or with less U.S. military presence in Europe amid renewed Russian aggression? Or with an Army and Marine Corps comprised of fewer troops with older equipment as more of the Middle East falls into the hands of ISIL, al-Qaeda affiliates, and Iranian-backed militants?" they wrote.

"We cannot pretend that we can avoid these choices. As growing global threats increase the demands on our military, we must either increase our resources to meet our strategic requirements, or we must reduce our strategic requirements to match our limited resources. We cannot have it both ways," they said.