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GOP Slams Obama Plan to Cut Military to 'Pre-World War II Level'

GOP Slams Obama Plan to Cut Military to 'Pre-World War II Level'

By    |   Monday, 24 February 2014 05:19 AM EST

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will propose on Monday a reduction in the size of the U.S. military to its smallest size since before World War II and scrapping a class of Air Force attack jets, The New York Times reported late Sunday.

The plans, which the paper said were outlined by several Pentagon officials on condition of anonymity, would be aimed at reducing defense spending in the face of government austerity after a pledge by President Barack Obama to end U.S. involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It would leave the military capable of defeating any enemy but too small for long foreign occupations, and would involve greater risk if U.S. forces were asked to carry out two large-scale military actions at the same time.

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Specifically, officials acknowledged that winning such a war would take longer, and there would be a larger number of casualties.

The plan also would:

  • Transfer the National Guard's Apache attack helicopters to the active-duty Army, which would transfer its Black Hawk helicopters to the National Guard;
  • Create an increase in health insurance deductibles and some co-pays for some military retirees and for some family members of active servicemen;
  • Call for slowing the growth of tax-free housing allowances for military personnel and would reduce the $1.4 billion direct subsidy provided to military commissaries;
  • Eliminate the entire fleet of Air Force A-10 attack aircraft;
  • Retire the famed U-2 spy plane in favor of the remotely piloted Global Hawk.
Overall, the Army, which currently has about 540,000 troops, will drop by about 20 percent to 440,000 troops over the next several years.

"You have to always keep your institution prepared, but you can't carry a large land-war Defense Department when there is no large land war," the Times quoted a senior Pentagon official as saying.

The Times added that some of the plans may face political opposition in Congress, but quoted the officials as saying that they had the endorsement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But details of the proposal met immediate resistance Monday.

"It's going to be the job of Congress to step in and move those numbers up," Republican Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said on Bloomberg TV's "In the Loop" program. "The world is not getting to be a safer place. This is not the time for us to begin to retreat, and certainly not the time to cut our military."

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News the cuts would hurt military readiness. The nation is only in this position because the Obama administration and Congress will not seriously take on cuts to entitlements, he said.

"It's all being sacrificed ... on the altar of entitlements. This president cannot take on mandatory spending, so all we've done in the Congress — and this president — is basically cut discretionary spending," McCaul said.

Retired Gen. Jack Keane told Fox News the proposed budget cuts by the Pentagon would "cut into the bone and the capabilities of the Army."

Keane said this move reflected a poor understanding of the last century of U.S. military history.

"The assumption that's being made in the Pentagon, and it's almost laughable if it wasn't so serious, is they don't believe the United States will involve itself in a ground war of any consequence again," Keane said. "The fact of the matter is, those assumptions have been made after World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War, and every single time they have been proven wrong. Here we are making that same assumption again."

And Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, whose husband was an A-10 pilot, has already vowed to fight plans to retire that aircraft.

But the libertarian Cato Institute said on its blog that the cuts sound "like the kind of force that Americans want and expect. Given rapidly rising personnel costs, and the great political difficulty of reining them in, the only way to achieve actual savings may be a smaller active-duty force."

Cato added that reaction from military contractors and Beltway insiders was "predictably apoplectic, but one doubts that the American public are terribly worried about a military that might be slightly less likely to get involved in unnecessary and counterproductive nation-building missions in distant lands."

Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, has said recently that whatever the future size of the Army, it must adapt to conditions that are different from what many soldiers have become accustomed to during more than a decade of war. He said many have the misperception that the Army is no longer busy.

"People tend to think that the Army is out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is not much going on," he said Jan. 23 at an Army forum. "The Army is not standing still. The Army is doing many, many, many things in order for us to shape the future environment and prevent conflict around the world."

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Hagel is seeking a limit on both military pay raises and healthcare benefits.

He also is looking at much less generous housing allowances, and a one-year freeze on raises for top military brass.

"Personnel costs reflect some 50 percent of the Pentagon budget and cannot be exempted in the context of the significant cuts the department is facing," Defense Department spokesman Adm. John Kirby told the Journal. "Secretary Hagel has been clear that, while we do not want to, we ultimately must slow the growth of military pay and compensation."

"This is a real uphill battle with Congress," Mieke Eoyang, director of the National Security Program at Third Way, a centrist think tank in Washington, told the Journal

"God bless [Hagel] for trying to get a handle on these costs," she said. "But in this political environment, in an election year, it's going to be hard for members of Congress to accept anything that's viewed as taking benefits away from troops."

Hagel's preview echoes proposals by predecessors Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, who showcased parts of their respective budgets before formal release. The deepest cuts were announced by Gates in April 2009 with the termination or truncation of numerous programs, including the manned vehicle portion of Boeing's then-$159 billion Future Combat System for the Army.

Hagel's proposal won't include termination of any major weapons programs for next year, although he'll announce the Army won't continue funding beyond the current technology demonstration phase for the Ground Combat Vehicle, said an official. General Dynamics Corp. and BAE Systems Plc are developing competing versions of the system.

The weapons-buying request for 2015 will be about $91 billion, or $15.2 billion less than the $106.2 billion the Pentagon estimated last year; and $64 billion for research and development, or $8.8 billion less than forecast, according to internal budget figures provided by a defense official.

Hagel's most controversial proposals instead may be to reduce the rate of compensation increases and housing allowances, according to officials.

The political resistance to any cuts in pay for active-duty military or benefits for veterans was demonstrated this month: Congress partially reversed its own decision in December's budget agreement to restrain cost-of- living adjustments for working-age military retirees.

Hagel faces a tighter budget environment than either Panetta or Gates because his plan was required under the Bipartisan Budget Act to cut as much as $43 billion from the year-ago level envisioned for fiscal 2015. 

That's in addition to a $25 billion reduction for this fiscal year mandated by the budget plan lawmakers crafted, and $37 billion eliminated in fiscal 2013 under the automatic cuts known as sequestration.

The budget agreement delayed sequestration cuts until 2016, allowing congressional appropriators and the military to select this year and next how to apportion the reductions.

Among the most closely watched figures when Obama releases the budget March 4 will be the nonwartime annual spending for fiscal years 2016-2019.

The administration in January gave the Pentagon guidance through 2019 that calls for spending after 2015 that would exceed congressional budget caps, according to officials.

A defense official today said the new five-year plan will push spending to about $115 billion beyond the limits.

The planned Army force cuts were reported last night by Defense News.

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will propose on Monday a reduction in the size of the U.S. military to its smallest size since before World War II and scrapping a class of Air Force attack jets, The New York Times reported late Sunday.
Monday, 24 February 2014 05:19 AM
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