National Security

The Hollow Men

Senate Democratic budget’s defense cuts would hollow out military, hawks warn


National security hawks say the budget cuts outlined in Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray’s (D., Wash.) budget blueprint ignore spending recommendations from President Barack Obama’s top military brass and could "hollow out" defense.

Murray’s budget plan would cut Pentagon spending by $240 billion over the next decade, a smaller reduction than the $500 billion mandated by sequestration. Military officials have warned that any new cuts could have a detrimental impact on national security.

While Murray proposes half the spending cuts of sequestration, Claude Chafin, communications director for the House Armed Services Committee, said her plan still "gets you to a hollow force."

"The problem is once you hollow out the force, once you put the national defense strategy at risk, it’s at risk.," Chafin said.  "It’s hollow. It doesn’t really matter how much you cut beyond that."

Christopher Griffin, the executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, said Murray’s cuts would be a dangerous gamble.

"We’re definitely playing the Defense Department limbo and the question is how low can you go before irreparable damage is done," he said.

Murray’s proposal stands in stark contrast to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R., Wis.) plan, approved by the budget committee last night, which eliminates defense sequestration cuts.

Ryan’s plan caps defense spending at a significantly lower level than he advocated during his vice presidential campaign, when he proposed raising defense spending to 4 percent of the gross domestic product. But defense hawks say this should to be viewed in context of the current sequestration crisis.

"At this point, an urgent problem that needs to be addressed is sequestration," Griffin said. "When that’s addressed, any thoughtful study of the defense budget will realize that it’s not sufficient for our needs."

Griffin said Ryan and Murray have "set out two posts" on defense spending, but the key issue will be which side Obama’s takes in own budget request.

"Will the president in his budget request set for the level of defense spending that his military leadership said is the absolute lowest that they can live with, or will he seek to go lower, as Murray did?" he said.

Murray’s plan is currently undergoing markup before it goes to a budget committee vote.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified last month that the Pentagon could not absorb any additional cuts and still continue to operate at its current level.

Defense officials have repeatedly warned that sequestration will gut the military and the defense industry.

The Pentagon has already started to feel the squeeze of sequestration, forcing it to suspend its Tuition Assistance program for military members, putting health benefits at risk, and disrupting programs for veterans.

A spokesperson for Murray said these concerns are addressed on page 72 of the budget proposal.

"As part of a balanced and fair plan to address the nation’s fiscal challenges that includes replacing sequestration, this budget makes responsible reductions to defense spending by slowing the rate of budget growth gradually and evenly to help defense leaders effectively manage the Department of Defense, while giving agencies a two-year period to prepare," reads the budget.