Bickering Over Defense Budget on Horizon, Republican Lawmakers Say
When the cuts that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced as part of his Pentagon budget preview come to Congress, expect a battle, said the two top Republicans on the House and Senate armed service committees.
Hagel previewed on Feb. 24 the fiscal year 2015 budget, which calls for downsizing the Army from its wartime high of about 570,000 troops to 440,000. It would retire the Air Force's A-10 Warthog and U-2 spy plane — as well as eliminate the Army's nascent ground combat vehicle.
As long as the top line of the budget remains the same, fighting about the particulars isn’t going result in any significant changes to defense spending, said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.
“The reserves are going to be fighting the National Guard," he said. Global Hawk proponents are going to fight those who favor the U-2, he predicted during a Feb. 27 roundtable with reporters. "What we should be looking at are what are the threats to this nation, and how are we going to defend ourselves against these threats? And I tell you, we get no leadership from the White House. I don't know what they're doing there."
Almost all of the measures proposed in Hagel’s preview are unpalatable to Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
For example, the administration is planning to cut its fleet of U-2 planes and replace them with Global Hawk unmanned aerial systems. However, if sequestration comes back into effect, Hagel has said the Air Force will be forced to retire its Global Hawk Block 40 aircraft.
That’s almost one-third of the Global Hawk fleet, Inhofe said.
House and Senate leadership can only have so much of an effect on individual lawmakers, which will rally to defend their own constituencies, McKeon said
"You can talk until you’re blue in the face to 435 members in the House and say, 'Don't be parochial,' but 435 of them were elected by their people to be parochial,” he said. “So they're going to come and they're going to defend what they think is important to our national defense, but they don't separate it as much from what is important to their district."
When Virginia lawmakers, who represent a state with a large shipbuilding industry, see plans to place 11 cruisers in reduced operating status, “where do you think that's going?" he asked.
McKeon and Inhofe slammed the Defense Department’s five year plan, which will be released alongside the budget, for not including sequestration cuts. Both lawmakers believe sequestration will be reinstated in fiscal year 2016.
“When they come up and give us a budget based on the fact that sequestration's not going to be in existence. Where's the reality?" McKeon asked.
Inhofe said he agreed with the service chiefs on the negative effects of sequestration, but he didn’t have any solution for how to keep it from taking place. “The only answer I can give you that if the
American people knew how serious it was, it would correct itself,” he said.
Both Inhofe and McKeon levied most of their barbs against President Barack Obama, even as the House leader allowed that some members from his own party have supported sequestration cuts.
The lawmakers dismissed Obama’s “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative,” which would bolster defense spending $26 billion and other accounts by $30 billion in exchange for spending and tax reforms.
The Obama administration wants to force legislators to raise revenue for defense and other spending by increasing taxes, McKeon said. Republicans aren’t going to allow that.
“What they're trying to do is trying to set up a system that is so bad that we're going to have to raise taxes. Well, we're not going to raise taxes. So it's going to be a very tough fight."
The Defense Department plans to ask Congress for another round of base realignment and closures in 2017, Hagel said on Monday.
Base closings cost money in the near term, but are supposed to harvest long-term savings. That doesn’t really help solve any current budget problems, McKeon said. Furthermore, Congress is unlikely to agree during an election year.
"They ought to probably start by documenting and showing us what was saved in the last BRAC. If they are serious about wanting a BRAC, they're going to have to show that a BRAC would save some money."