Congress must defend Defense’s budget request

Whatever tack it takes, Congress should reject any conditions President Obama may try to put on signing a defense bill into law that fully funds the very budget that the Pentagon says it needs and that he approved before it was sent to the Hill. The Pentagon’s budget request was sent to Congress on Monday and is $35 billion above what the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) allows for defense spending. Obama wants to get rid of sequester by ignoring the limits of the BCA and raising spending on all discretionary accounts, which includes defense as well as domestic. This is why sequester’s automatic cuts in the BCA is such insanely bad policy: it ties all discretionary spending together, even though not all discretionary spending is of equal value.

Now that the president has submitted the budget, the Congress should see that the Pentagon’s budget request is the absolute floor for defense spending for fiscal year 2016, and should not even consider funding the Pentagon at a lower level. After all, the bi-partisan National Defense Panel said the budget should be $611 billion for fiscal year 2016, roughly $77 billion above the figure the Pentagon submitted. This means the Congress must either pass another short-term fix like the Ryan-Murray deal or amend the BCA in order to relieve the Pentagon.

Recall, the Pentagon already received massive spending cuts when Robert Gates was Defense Secretary. In 2011 he helped identify $78 billion over 5 years of savings in the budget, seemingly convinced that making these cuts would avoid more haphazard cuts from politicians looking to pay for non-essential domestic programs. But the cuts Gates authorized were just the beginning. The administration then pushed for another $400 billion in cuts over 23 years on top of the $78. It’s no wonder the BCA has left top military brass explaining in the most dire terms how much sequester will deeply harm national security.

Two significant documents, the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance and the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), have laid out U.S. defense priorities and the budget is, according to Pentagon officials, based on that strategy. Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work explained that the strategy in the QDR calls for “a joint force to defend the homeland, conduct a global counter-terrorism campaign, primarily through partners whenever possible and wherever possible, and to operate forward in multiple theaters to assure our friends and allies and deter potential adversaries. [T]his is a strategy that is designed to preserve U.S. global leadership and to help preserve global peace in the 21st century.”

In a January 28th Senate Armed Services Committee hearing General Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps explained what a BCA-level defense budget would mean for executing this strategy. “Given the numerous and complex security challenges we face today, I believe DOD funding at the Budget Control Act level, with sequestration, will result in the need to develop a new strategy. We simply will not be able to execute the strategy.” Policy-makers should take that assessment seriously.

A quick survey of just a few current security threats reinforces the General’s point. Just last Sunday Iran successfully launched its fourth satellite into space, demonstrating technology that is transferable to a long-range missile. And on Tuesday senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi affirmed once more that Iran’s missile program is not negotiable, even as the Obama administration feebly attempts to secure a deal to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Russia continues its aggression in Eastern Europe, and is advancing its assault on Ukraine by dispatching tanks, artillery, and anti-aircraft to assist separatists in expanding already illegally annexed Ukrainian territory.

China continues to modernize its military including its missile force and has pushed back on U.S. military cooperation with Japan and South Korea, even as North Korea improves its illicit missiles like the long-range road-mobile ballistic missile called the KN-08.

Finally, the Islamic State continues its merciless carnage, holding and even gaining territory in Iraq and Syria.

There’s no question elected officials have to curb federal spending, but this is not the time to take further cuts to defense, especially the indiscriminate kinds that sequester will cause. The Congress can and should amend the law in order to fully fund the defense budget and look for spending cuts elsewhere, like in mandatory spending– the true debt-drivers. But providing for the common defense shouldn’t be treated as a political football, and so the Congress should flat-out refuse to play that game.

This article appeared on The Hill website at http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/homeland-security/231911-congress-musr-defend-defenses-budget-request

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