Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Defense Budget Debate: Dempsey Warns That Cuts Are Too Deep

It’s refreshing to hear of someone who is willing to fight back against the cut in the defense budget, particularly to make up for the profligate spending of the administration elsewhere.

General Martin Dempsey, recently named as the Army Chief of Staff and now nominated to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that current plans for deep spending cuts to reduce the overall federal debt (currently debated as up to $1 trillion over ten years) would leave the military “unable to perform essential tasks”.

He further disagreed with the current Chairman, JCS, Admiral Mike Mullen.  Mullen has often said that the federal debt is the greatest threat to national security.  Dempsey, however, stated that military and diplomatic strength must be part of the equation, in addition to economic power. 

Politico reports on the hearings:

The Pentagon is expected to take a significant hit in any resolution of the debt crisis. Obama has called for a $400 billion reduction in security spending over 12 years – the bulk of it from the military – and various other plans call for reductions of up to $800 billion or $1 trillion.

“I believe $800 [billion] would be extraordinarily difficult and very high risk,” Dempsey told the panel, saying at that point the military would be unable to carry out the current strategy for protecting U.S. interests and would need to develop another in line with fiscal realities. . . .

“What makes this period different is we’re doing all this while we’re still actively engaged in conflict,” Dempsey said. “That adds a degree of difficulty that we can’t discount.” . . .

John McCain of Arizona . . . acknowledged that Americans are “deeply frustrated by the enormous debt,” but said Pentagon spending is “not the cause of the economic dilemma we find ourselves in today.”  
Later, General Philip Breedlove, Vice Chief of the Air Force, said that even the proposed $400 billion cut-back “would force us to constrict our force”. 

With Republicans trying to hold the line against further tax hikes, and Democrats protecting entitlements, the only real place (and the usual target) is discretionary spending, of which the defense budget comprises about half.  This targeting of the defense budget is not helped by apocryphal stories about $600 toilet seats (not the seat but an entire assembly, unique items for specific aircraft, including R&D costs) or $435 hammers (actually $15, the story chalked up to sloppy accounting by the opposition, but just too juicy to have the truth stand in the way).  It is true that DoD has plenty to answer for in terms of cutting costs here and there, but the general assumption in the public mind is that the troops are given whatever supplies they need without regard to cost.  That is simply not true.  A commanding officer has a budget just like any other organization, and I had to account for the impact on my budget or why I would need items in excess of my allotment. 

As long as the Democrats have a say in it, it is the military, still expected to hold forth in a dangerous world and responsible for major fighting (whether labeled with the euphemism ‘kinetic military action’ or not), that will suffer disproportionally in the budget cutbacks.

And if you think that is just mere speculation:
“I think what's absolutely true is that core commitments that we make to the most vulnerable have to be maintained,” Obama said. “A lot of the spending cuts that we're making should be around areas like defense spending as opposed to food stamps.”  

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