Questionable Wisdom

Congressional leaders and defense experts blast Obama’s military budget, say it will hurt preparedness

Hagel and Gen. Dempsey / AP


President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for the Department of Defense is being met with fierce criticisms among congressional leaders and outside experts who say the budget is unrealistic and hurts the military’s ability to perform.

"Current fiscal realities demand that we make tough decisions," said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at a news conference to introduce the Pentagon’s budget.

Hagel listed multiple areas of cuts, including in weapons systems and in the number of military personnel. He also noted that some areas, like cyber security, are seeing budget increases.

"We built this budget to prepare the joint force for an uncertain future," said Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey at the press conference.

He said the military will face "readiness shortfalls" this fiscal year, with unknown consequences, but stressed that the budget seeks to "keep the force in balance."

Hagel hailed the budget as offering a "comprehensive deficit reduction plan" that could bring stability to the military’s current budget woes.

The Pentagon is currently implementing over $500 billion in mandatory cuts from the Budget Control Act, also known as the sequester. The budget sequester loomed heavily over the press conference, especially in the second half where the Pentagon’s comptroller Robert Hale warned against "significant and adverse effects on military preparedness."

"We need to plan wisely for a long term future of budget constraints," Hagel said.

Congressional leaders and outside observers questioned the wisdom of the president’s cuts to the defense budget.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R., Calif.) contrasted the increasing demands on our military with the president’s cuts to the military. He noted the deteriorating situation in Syria, North Korea’s continuing belligerence, and the new "North African front in the War on Terror."

"In other words, we are already adding to what we have asked our military to do while the president cuts their resources," McKeon said in his statement. "Now, with no assessment of strategic impact, the president has proposed yet another arbitrary cut of $120 billion from the military."

Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) similarly deplored the budget’s effect on the military.

"The president’s fiscal year 2014 budget request fails to exhibit the needed leadership of a commander in chief to adequately address our escalating threats abroad and our harsh fiscal realities here at home," Inhofe said in a statement.

This "proposal only continues his unfortunate history of saddling the men and women of our military with disproportionate and illogical budget cuts that drastically undermine the readiness and capabilities they need to operate in an increasingly dangerous world," Inhofe said.

Inhofe also said the president’s budget does not meet spending reductions mandated by the Budget Control Act, a point that defense experts also noted.

"The bottom line here is that the Obama administration is punting on the serious problem of responsibly replacing forced sequestration cuts so that defense can get to more adequate levels of funding in the near and long term," said Robert Zarate, policy director for the Foreign Policy Initiative.

Gary Schmitt, a defense expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said if Congress and the president cannot agree on a comprehensive deal to slow spending, the Pentagon will face another round of sequestration-style spending cuts in the fall.

"It’s a rhetorical show on the part of the president," Schmitt said about the budget. He contended that the president’s budget is a "backdoor way" to ensure that the cuts will happen.

"They don’t want that [plan with the impending cuts] to be on paper, because they know how devastating that would look," he said.

Zarate said the military is being funded at "really low levels given the many threats we face in the world," citing Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China as potential threats requiring America’s attention.

Military officials testified on Tuesday about the growing threat of al Qaeda across northern Africa and the Middle East, especially in Mali and Syria.

"Civilian and military leaders in the Pentagon have warned that ever more rounds of deep defense cuts will increase the risk to U.S. national security and global stability," Zarate said.

Schmitt said the current budget cuts under sequestration are "wreaking havoc" on the military’s preparedness.

He said the tensions in North Korea could potentially reproduce a similar situation to the first Korean War, where the American military had reduced its size after World War II and was not prepared to fight a large-scale ground offensive.

"This is just not a serious commander in chief," Schmitt said.

Andrew Evans   Email Andrew | Full Bio | RSS
Andrew Evans is an assistant editor at National Affairs and a former reporter for the Washington Free Beacon, where he covered government accountability and healthcare issues.

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