Published March 10, 2014
The recently released budget from the Obama administration offers little comfort in a world still imperiled by acts of war.
Amid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and missile tests by North Korea, President Obama is proposing defense cuts that could jeopardize the future vitality and preparedness of America’s armed forces.
At a time for demonstrating “peace through strength,” the president’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget blueprint instead suggests America is on the retreat, with fewer resources to engage as a global leader.
Like many of my colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I was appalled to learn that the president’s budget shifts Washington’s financial burdens onto the backs of our men and women in uniform.
In addition to adjustments affecting military pay and benefits, the budget calls for drastic reductions in force structure – so much so that the number of military personnel would return to levels not seen since before World War II.
To be sure, there is widespread agreement that today’s tough budget environment requires everyone to do more with less. But the administration’s ill-advised defense cuts promise to have a far-reaching and profound impact, putting additional burdens on members of the National Guard and hurting military communities across the country.
The budget recommends another Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), despite the lack of tangible, long-term savings from the BRAC round in 2005.
The best interests of our service members must prevail, just as they did in the aftermath of the military pension cuts included in the bipartisan budget agreement last year.
As an early opponent of these cuts, I was pleased when the onerous provision was repealed with overwhelming support by both political parties.
I am troubled, however, that adjustments to military compensation were not merely an oversight in the search for savings. As the president’s FY2015 budget illustrates, the benefits and pay of our men and women in uniform are still a target for reductions. Meanwhile, urgent and critical reforms to the exponential growth of mandatory, non-defense spending are left undone. In fact, the president’s budget exceeds the spending caps he signed into law just a couple of months ago.
At the very least, the administration should wait for the results of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. Congress needs the commission’s guidance to mitigate the negative impact of cuts on service members and their families. It is unreasonable for service members to endure more severe cuts than federal bureaucrats.
When unveiling the Pentagon’s budget, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel implied that the drawdown of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan now merited the adjustment of military compensation and personnel. But it is shortsighted to use these conflicts as rationale for less manpower or lower compensation.
The national security challenges faced by today’s service members are just as complicated and perilous as they were immediately after Sept. 11 – if not more so.
In many ways, the administration’s skeleton defense budget echoes the argument that President Obama made during the 2012 campaign debate with presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The president quipped that “we also have fewer horses and bayonets” when questioned about the dwindling size of the Navy and its implications on national security.
The president is mistaken to suggest that modernizing America’s defense capabilities is an excuse to gut them. For all the technological advancements at our disposal, we still rely on soldiers to execute our country’s missions at home and abroad.
Missing from the Obama administration’s defense budget is the confidence that America will have the capacity to lead if a crisis arises. The tyrants of the world are not likely to behave because of the president’s rhetoric alone. The integrity of U.S. strength is an important factor in the decisions of both our allies and our adversaries.
A better budget would pave the way for the continued strength and preparedness of our all-volunteer military, assuring future recruits that the government will not go back on its promises.
A better budget would signal to our enemies that the United States remains a formidable power committed to protecting democracy and freedom around the world.
Neither aim is impossible, even in difficult financial times. What is uncertain is whether the administration is willing to make the tough decisions necessary to achieve them.