House Republicans demonstrated on Thursday their support for restoring funding to a U.S. military that could shrink to its lowest size in decades as global threats rise.
The House approved Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R., Wis.) budget on a party-line vote. Ryan's budget provides $274 billion more to the Department of Defense’s budget than was requested by President Barack Obama. The Pentagon faces almost $1 trillion in budget cuts in the next decade stemming from the 2011 Budget Control Act and further reductions known as sequestration.
The call to bolster defense spending represents a shift in focus for some House Republicans who previously supported leaving the full sequester in place.
The Democrat-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass Ryan’s budget and has said it will not pass its own version. However, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee said this week that they will begin to discuss efforts to overturn sequestration.
Rep. Bradley Byrne (R., Ala.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Washington Free Beacon that the recent reductions in the defense budget are "disgraceful."
The Army would shrink to its smallest size since World War II if sequestration remains in place. The Navy could be forced to sideline an aircraft carrier, and aircraft, such as the A-10, would be retired.
America’s adversaries are watching, Byrne said.
"Lowering the size of the United States Army to what it was before World War II? I mean this is serious stuff," he said.
"Don’t make any mistake about it—bad guys in the world, they’re looking at our weakness and they’re saying attack," he added.
He expressed concerns in particular about Russia, which he said has placed about 300 ships in the Black Sea near Crimea and massed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders. Russia’s Black Sea fleet has more ships than the entire U.S. naval fleet, though he added that most of Russia’s ships are smaller surface combatants.
"The Russians understand that asymmetric warfare is where they can combat us in conventional terms, and we’ve got to get in that fight or we’re going to lose it when it starts," he said.
Byrne said inserting U.S. troops in Ukraine is not a realistic option but supported arming the Ukrainian military. U.S. officials have so far rebuffed Ukrainian requests for defensive weapons or intelligence, instead delivering 300,000 meals ready to eat (MREs) to its military.
"What do you expect the Ukrainians to do—throw them at the Russians when they come across the border?" Byrne said.
Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.) recommended reviving plans to place missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Obama scrapped in 2009 as part of the administration’s efforts to achieve a rapprochement with Russia. He noted that the Budapest Memorandum—an agreement the United States and Russia signed with Ukraine in 1994 to remove the latter country’s nuclear weapons—included an assurance for respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.
"If you’re sitting in Putin’s seat right now, what’s to stop you?" Price said.
Rep. Richard Hudson (R., N.C.) said the Obama administration has adopted a "utopian" view of foreign affairs in general that is reflected in the shrinking U.S. military.
"They think if we just draw back and don’t meddle in the world, the world’s problems won’t come to our shores, and it won’t impact us," he said.
"It’s a dangerous, naïve misunderstanding of human nature."