In Defense Of Cuts

By John Liang / January 27, 2011 at 5:33 PM

Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke with reporters yesterday on a plane en route to Canada and took the opportunity to talk about his proposed budgetary efficiencies initiatives, according to a transcript released today by the Pentagon:

. . . The first is that there is opposition clearly in some quarters to any reduction in the defense top line from the earlier projections, going from $566 billion to $553 billion. That's fine as rhetoric, but let me describe to you the real world that I live in.

In fiscal year '11, if we end up with a year-long continuing resolution, as increasingly seems likely, that will represent a $23 billion cut in the defense budget, below what the president asked for. This Congress would be responsible for that.

It's the worst of all possible kinds of reductions, in significant measure because it comes halfway through the fiscal year. But beyond that, we can't make up all of that through changes in contracts and programs and so on. And, in fact, most likely it would come out of operations and maintenance, even in war - operations and maintenance, through stretching out programs, which is what makes them very expensive; cuts in training and readiness.

And frankly, that's how you hollow out a military even in wartime. It means lower flying - fewer flying hours, fewer steaming days, cuts in training for home-based – home-stationed ground forces, cuts in maintenance and so on.

So, again, if we ended up with this yearlong continuing resolution, this new Congress would be responsible for a cut that's nearly twice the size of our FY '12 proposal and much, much more damaging.

So my question is about the seriousness of those who are worried about reductions to the defense budget, and I think they can demonstrate that seriousness by passing a defense appropriations bill, which still would be $10 billion less than the president has asked for.

So in short, talk about not cutting defense in FY '12, as far as I'm concerned, is simply rhetoric without action on the FY '11 defense budget that's already in front of the Congress.

Second, there have been some concerns expressed about a $78 billion cut in the projected defense budget over the next five years. First of all, to make clear to everybody, that's in budget projections. The reality is the dollars in the budget will go up every year. And the impact on the services is very modest. Of that $78 billion, $54 billion are coming from - is coming from outside the services, from other Defense agencies and other cuts. Fourteen billion (dollars) is through changes in defense - in assumptions, like lower inflation. We're going to have lower pay raises than we had projected, and so on.

So $68 billion of the $78 billion don't touch the services, really, at all. Four billion - an additional $4 billion comes from restructuring the Joint Strike Fighter program, and I would argue that's actually to the advantage of the services. And $6 billion is from the force reductions in '15 and '16.

And my view is, on those force reductions in the Marine Corps and the Army, that's far enough out in the future that if our assumptions about what the world is like prove to be not correct, there's plenty of time to adjust and change those - change those figures.

So the bottom line is, of that $78 (billion) that supposedly is dramatically affecting our defense capabilities, only about $10 billion come out of anything having to do with the troops or investment funds or capabilities.

Finally, we have been able to carry out the promise to the services that the roughly $100 billion in savings that they found through the efficiencies, they will get to keep. Now, the reality is they're having to deal with about $28 billion in must-pays - additional fuel costs, things like health care and so on. But they will get $70 billion more than was in their original program for investment through the savings they've identified that will be returned to them.

So I just wanted -- those were the three things that I just wanted to mention. And I - as you can tell, I feel especially strongly about the continuing resolution because the consequences for us - I mean, it's one thing to talk about FY '12 and then to express concerns about something that may or may not happen in four or five years, but I have a crisis on my doorstep. And I want them to deal with the crisis on my doorstep before we start arguing about the levels in FY '12.

As reported yesterday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) during a hearing yesterday signaled his sharp disagreement with the Obama administration's proposed cuts to the Pentagon's budget and vowed to fight "any measures that stress our forces." Specifically:

McKeon said that while he supports Defense Secretary Robert Gates' effort to find efficiencies in the Defense Department's operations, he plans in coming weeks to "pursue" the consequences of the White House Office of Management and Budget decision last month to cut planned DOD spending by $78 billion over five years.

"I intend to pursue the impact of this decision by the administration,” McKeon said. “We have asked much of our men and women in uniform over the years. They have bravely fought and sacrificed for all of us -- each and every one of us in this room. I cannot in good conscience ask them to 'do more with less.'"