September 26, 2011

House Republicans Release Bleak Report on Impact of Further Defense Cuts

A new House Republican study concludes additional Pentagon cuts would force a draft, gut the military, and make “defending our freedom harder” -- but other Defense Department watchers say such warnings are far-fetched.

The report, prepared by the Republican staff on the House Armed Services Committee, concludes if cuts above an already-agreed-to $350 billion over a decade are enacted, the military services would shrink to pre-9/11 levels and most of their big-ticket weapon programs would be “at risk.”

The GOP staff goes so far as to warn that more Defense Department budget cuts “could force America to return to the draft.” The report also says much of the planned F-35 fighter fleet would be terminated, while the Navy would retire around 40 ships -- including two aircraft carriers -- and Army vehicle programs could be terminated.

Those predictions are based on a special congressional panel failing to find $1.5 trillion in cuts, which would force $600 billion in additional cuts over a decade for the Pentagon and other national security agencies. The chairman of the committee, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), has said the Pentagon likely would take half of that reduction.

“We believe potential cuts to the military pose a serious threat that would break the back of our armed forces while slowing our economic recovery and doing little to resolve our debt crisis,” the GOP staff wrote. “These cuts would destroy jobs and stall the economy, they could force America to return to the draft, and we would incur more casualties as we defend our freedom.”

The report says 200,000 military personnel and “hundreds of thousands” of DoD civilian personnel would be “out of work” if the $600 billion trigger is enacted. 

The GOP report paints a bleak picture: Shipyards and other military manufacturing facilities would be shuttered. The U.S. fighter aircraft fleet would be shrunk by a third, and the bomber plane fleet by a quarter. The Marine Corps would “be broken -- unable to be the expeditionary force in ready.” Cuts to personnel programs would mean “breaking the promises Americans have made to those who have fought so hard for so long.” 

But Gordon Adams, who ran national security budgeting for the Clinton administration, panned the report, saying “this is not a responsible analytical product.”

“It appears the [GOP] staff started by asking, ‘What can I do by picking my targets to make this look like the end of Western civilization?’” Adams said Monday. “It’s designed to scare people.”

House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a statement he, too, is “concerned that further large and indiscriminate cuts to the defense budget could have a substantially negative impact on our military.”

Smith questioned how hawkish Republicans can issue “dire warnings about the potential impacts of additional defense budget cuts while also refusing “to consider raising any additional revenue.”

“In order to avoid drastic cuts to our military and other important programs, revenue must be on the table,” Smith said. “We must develop a comprehensive national security strategy that takes into account current and future funding and rationally appropriates our resources to best meet our challenges.”

McKeon and other hawkish Republicans have also called for strategic needs to drive any military funding reductions.

But the study shows “it’s not going to be done that way,” a HASC Republican aide told The Hill on Monday. If the $600 billion trigger is kicked, the cuts will be too deep, “and [Pentagon officials] just won’t be able to do it that way -- especially for 2013,” the aide said.

Congressional aides from both chambers say they have asked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for guidance on how much in 2012 and 2013 should be cut from the DoD budget to begin implementing the $350 billion in cuts. OMB has yet to respond to those inquiries, the aides say.

Adams noted the $350 billion in cuts over a decade set in motion by the August debt deal would be an 8 percent reduction from planned spending. “That’s peanuts,” Adams said.

A chart in the HASC Republican study shows an expected Pentagon budget drop to $491 billion in 2013. The House’s stopgap 2012 spending measure calls for $527 billion in Pentagon spending, while a more-recent Senate version of defense appropriations legislation would give the department $14 billion less.

The same chart shows modest annual growth for the Pentagon budget, rising to $535 billion in 2017 before hitting $589 billion in 2021.

“The defense cuts under consideration won’t necessarily hollow out the U.S. military if policymakers are willing to size our forces according to the resources available,” said Travis Sharp, a defense analyst at the Center for a New American Security, which was founded by two current Obama administration officials. “A smaller, highly trained, and well equipped force is preferable to a bigger force that lacks the necessary training and equipment.”

Sharp also said the GOP staff’s conclusion that a military draft would return is “not grounded in any analysis that I have seen.”