WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration looks to be in for a tough time in selling its proposed 2012 defense budget, with opposition rising against almost every reduction, cut and slice proposed in military programs.
Fierce opposition to some of the cost-saving measures was evident during a Jan. 26 House Armed Services Committee hearing here in which the panel’s new Republican chairman, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, said he “will not support any measures that stress our forces and jeopardize the lives of our men and women in uniform. I will also oppose any plans that have the potential to damage or jeopardize our national security.”
Proposals drawing the most fire include reductions in the size of the Army and Marine Corps, cancellation of the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and health care fee increases for some beneficiaries as part of $7 billion in savings.
The Obama plan would, over the next five years, shift about $100 billion within the defense budget to new priorities and reduce planned spending by another $78 billion. While some complain it cuts too deeply, others say it doesn’t cut deeply enough.
For example, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, called the Pentagon plan “a good first step in the right direction.”
“There is no place we are going to save money where someone doesn’t complain about it,” Smith said.
Freshman Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), an Iraq war combat veteran and retired Army colonel elected to Congress as part of the tea party movement, also applauded the Pentagon effort.
Gibson said he is all for a strong national defense, but “this deficit that we have threatens our very way of life, and everything needs to be on the table.”
Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn told the committee the competing complaints seem to indicate the balance in the budget is “about right.”
Details of the administration’s proposed 2012 defense budget won’t be available until Feb. 14, but Lynn said it will include $533 billion in basic spending, a modest 1.5 percent to 3 percent increase over the 2011 request after adjusting for inflation, plus separate funding for contingency operations. The result is an increase of about 5 percent, he said.
The broad Obama plan, which calls for a five-year freeze in domestic spending, also would reduce defense spending. In 2013, the defense budget would rise about 1 percent over inflation, Lynn said. In 2014, the increase would be about half a percentage point, and no increases over inflation are projected for 2015 and 2016, he said.
The flat budgets in 2015 and 2016 would be achieved, in part, by rolling back the size of the Army and Marine Corps to roughly pre-2011 levels, a controversial idea among Armed Services Committee members.
In response to committee questions, Army and Marine Corps officials said the future personnel cuts are based on assumptions about reductions in deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq without any new operations that would require large numbers of ground forces. If those reductions are not made, keeping defense spending flat would require drastic cuts elsewhere, most likely in weapon programs.
McKeon opposes cutting personnel levels, as does another new member of the committee who is affiliated with the tea party. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Iraq war veteran, said he recalls premature force cuts at the end of the Cold War that left the services short of people when they were needed.
He also is concerned that high deployment-related stress on service members and families won’t diminish if the services rush to cut personnel levels as operations wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I want to make sure that, as we talk about military personnel, we don’t go back and do what we did when the Soviet Union collapsed, where we saw the military as a bill-payer for some other budgetary programs that we wanted to do,” West said.