No matter your position on the Pentagon’s choices regarding force structure, weapons and doctrine, one has to give the building some credit for attempting to face up to the current tough budgetary environment.
With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan finally ending, a wartime budget is no longer needed and the Pentagon can no longer afford excess personnel and forces, so Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel presented the fiscal 2015 budget to Congress with a number of recommendations for cost savings this year and in subsequent years.
The tough-minded fiscal conservatives on the House Armed Services Committee said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
The ranking Democrat, Adam Smith of Washington, accused Republicans of worsening the Pentagon budget crisis by insisting it buy weapons it has not requested.
In a recent article, Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon agreed that the committee is requiring the Pentagon to keep a larger force than it can afford and the Pentagon and Congress will have to solve that problem next year — meaning after the California Republican has retired.
The French King Louis XV uttered the warning, “Après moi, le deluge.” It was true; the next king lost his head.
But McKeon won’t even lose his pension.
In a markup of the defense authorization bill, the committee said nyet to Pentagon proposals for savings. Not nyet, but nyet nyet nyet nyet nyet.
The old Soviets at the United Nations would have been proud.
It is not shocking that the committee rejected a new round of base closings. These military bases provide jobs in districts; Congress has balked in the past and will recoil in the future.
It also is not surprising that those putative fiscal conservatives rejected proposals for savings in housing, commissary, pay and the military health care system under the rationale of “anything for the troops.”
With program after program, committee members acted to preserve jobs in their districts:
• Retire the A-10 Warthog: Rejected
• Retire a Ticonderoga class Cruiser: Rejected
• Retire half of early warning aircraft: Rejected
• Retire U-2 spy planes: Rejected
• Transfer AH-64 attack helicopters from Army National Guard to Army: Rejected
• Reduce personnel levels in the Army: Rejected
• Reduce Army National Guard: Rejected
• Delay refueling an aircraft carrier: Rejected
The motto of the committee seems to be, “We are careful guardians of the treasury — just not in our backyards.”
Meanwhile, Pentagon brass disagrees.
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently told reporters: “We’ve got to be able to retire systems we no longer need or that can accomplish the mission in other ways. And we’ve got to be able to get rid of some excess infrastructure. We estimate that we have about 20 percent excess infrastructure in terms of bases, camps and stations.”
The chairman further pointed out that if the Pentagon’s proposed cuts are rejected, “We are going to have to raid our readiness accounts and our modernization account.”
“That’s OK,” says the committee. It is more important that funds keep flowing home than ensure our forces are ready to fight.
John Isaacs is the executive director of Council for a Livable World, a 501(c)4 nonpartisan issue advocacy organization dedicated to reducing the threat of weapons of mass destruction and advocating for a strong and sensible national security strategy.