Military chiefs welcomed a bipartisan budget deal that would provide the Pentagon with some fiscal certainty and lessen the damage of deep spending cuts over the next two years, but they say it doesn’t go far enough for future years.
“This deal will help a little bit in the near term, but it still doesn’t address the broader problem with sequestration,” Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff, said Wednesday on Fox News. “Sequestration is a nine-year problem now, so it’s another seven years that we still have to be concerned with.”
The compromise negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, and Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, would prevent a government shutdown Jan. 15, and add about $22.4 billion to the fiscal 2014 defense budget and $9 billion into the 2015 military budget.
The Pentagon faces budget cuts of $52 billion in 2014 and $500 billion over the next decade due to sequestration, the automatic spending reduction plan that was implemented when lawmakers failed to reach a long-term budget deal in 2012. The Defense Department already had cut its 10-year budget by more than $480 billion.
In order to meet sequestration goals this year, the military services have curtailed training, halted ship deployments, grounded air squadrons and furloughed civilian workers.
“Because of how fast we’ve had to do it, it really has affected our readiness,” Gen. Odierno said. “If we had some unknown contingency, I’m concerned we wouldn’t have our soldiers trained to do what they need to do.”
There has been no shortages of contingencies: A day before the budget deal was reached, the Pentagon accepted a request from France to assist with a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic by transporting equipment and troops from Burundi.
Budget analysts say more drastic spending reductions will have to be taken under the new budget deal.
The deal would reduce the military’s annual pay increase for nondisabled, working-age retirees by 1 percent less than the rise in consumer prices. The change would be phased in over three years, taking full effect in December 2016.
The Pentagon “will still have to reduce end strength, particularly in the Army, eliminate some force structure, curtail modernization programs, and even keep training and readiness below ideal levels in order to achieve the required savings,” said Nora Bensahel, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, agreed.
“It will not eliminate the impact of sequestration; it may mitigate it a bit for the first few years,” Gen. Welsh said at the American Enterprise Institute.
If the deal is approved, the total defense budget for fiscal 2014 would be $520 billion — about $32 billion less than the pending 2014 defense bill would authorize.
Loren B. Thompson, a former consultant for Lockheed Martin Corp., said the budget deal is a welcome development for the defense industry.
“The federal government is the defense industry’s main customer, so any relief from the budget caps required by sequestration is good news for industry,” said Mr. Thompson, now the chief operations officer for the Lexington Institute. “This is a good deal in the sense that it averts another government shutdown, it removes the government from the fiscal straitjacket of a continuing resolution and it prevents a crisis in military readiness.”
Conservative critics of the deal, however, say it fails to make any substantive reforms to entitlement programs.
“The budget conferees forged a deal that would increase spending immediately, while delaying deficit reduction till later and trading spending cuts for more revenue,” said Romina Boccia, a federal budgetary fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “Far from simply being another missed opportunity, this deal keeps the nation on its fiscal collision course.”