As Congress marks up the military budget, the nation’s defense leaders said today they stand ready to work with lawmakers to maintain the balance they built into their budget proposal.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke strongly on defense budget issues during a Pentagon press conference.
“We do not have to choose between national security and fiscal security, but that does not mean that we do not have to make tough choices,” the secretary said. “We do. And defense should not be exempt from doing its share to reduce the deficit.”
The House Armed Services Committee this week has debated aspects of the proposed defense budget, including base realignment and closure and possible missile defense sites.
Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011, Panetta noted, which requires a reduction of defense spending of $487 billion over the next 10 years.
To meet those cuts, department senior leaders worked with President Barack Obama to craft a strategy outlining defense priorities, the secretary said. They then built a spending plan that both supports that strategy and meets the Budget control Act’s spending caps, he added.
“My concern is that if Congress now tries to reverse many of the tough decisions that we reached by adding several billion dollars to the president’s budget request, then they risk not only potential gridlock … [but] they could force the kind of trade-offs that could jeopardize our national defense,” Panetta said.
The secretary described some of those trade-offs. If DOD leaders can’t retire aging ships and aircraft, he said, they will have to realize savings in areas such as modernization investment.
If the department can’t reduce force structure after 2014, “Congress would be forcing us to reduce readiness. We would have to cut training [and] we’d have to cut equipment,” Panetta added.
And if Congress limits the Pentagon’s ability to put military health care costs on what the secretary called a sustainable track, lawmakers would limit defense options to invest in “new technologies that we believe are critical to the force we need for the future,” he said.
Dempsey said he appreciates the difficulties lawmakers must contend with in managing military spending as U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan continues, and complex security challenges lie ahead.
The chairman said he and Panetta, along with the service chiefs and combatant commanders, faced the same issues when they prepared their budget request.
DOD’s spending plan “is a responsible investment in our nation’s security,” Dempsey said.
The challenge in finalizing defense funding is to “make sure our armed forces have what they need – and no more than we need – to keep America immune from coercion,” the chairman said.
DOD’s budget request reflects a carefully devised set of choices to sustain the joint force, Dempsey said.
Those choices, he added, reflect “the right mix among force structure, modernization, readiness, pay and benefits. Different choices will produce a different balance.”