Defense on the rocks
Since the congressional supercommittee is reportedly at an impasse, let’s hope its members have used some of their idle time to catch up with the testimony of the nation’s military chiefs at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday. The chiefs were asked to assess what would be the consequences if $600 billion in across-the-board cuts were imposed on the defense budget — a sequestration currently required by law in the event the supercommittee fails to agree on a debt reduction plan or Congress fails to pass it.
Their answers were blunt: “Cuts of this magnitude would be catastrophic to the military,” testified Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, a former Iraq commander. “My assessment is that the nation would incur an unacceptable level of strategic and operational risk.”
“A severe and irreversible impact on the Navy’s future,” said Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations.
“A Marine Corps below the end strength that’s necessary to support even one major contingency,” said Marine Commandant James Amos.
“Even the most thoroughly deliberated strategy may not be able to overcome dire consequences,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz.
True, the Pentagon brass are known for pushing hard for their funding. But they rarely speak in such apocalyptic tones — and there is good reason to take their warnings seriously. Under President Obama’s budget plan, $465 billion is already due to be cut from military spending over the next decade, from an annual budget now of about $700 billion. That will already require a downsizing of the Army and Marines, the reduction or cancellation of more weapons systems and a shrinking of the Navy to its lowest size in decades. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a lifelong budget hawk, is rightly concerned that such cuts may go too far.
Congress set this bomb in place when it agreed in the summer that half of $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts would be assessed to defense if a debt reduction plan failed to pass this year. Now it has heard from senior commanders just how much damage its explosion would cause.
— Washington Post