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GOP continues push for more defense spending

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., attends a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. On Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015, McCain and other committee members considered proposals to reverse the decline of defense spending.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 10, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee under John McCain continued its push Tuesday to reverse a decline in U.S. defense spending since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senators heard testimony from two former deputy defense secretaries who said the country should go back to the 2012-era of budget planning — a move that would result in a $611 billion budget — to keep up with rapidly growing global threats, troop readiness and future weapons development.

The proposal would blow past mandatory defense caps this year that could keep base spending to $523 billion, which the Pentagon and defense analysts have warned will limit the military’s ability to maintain its forces and carry out missions around the world. But the defense proposal floated in the Senate also goes far beyond the White House’s proposed military budget that was unveiled this month and sets the base defense spending at $534 billion.

“These steep cuts have sharply reduced military readiness, led to dangerous investment shortfalls in present and future capabilities, and prompted our allies and adversaries alike to question our commitment and resolve,” said Arizona Republican McCain, who has been fighting defense cuts since he took over the Armed Services Committee chairmanship last month.

Reductions come at a difficult time for global security, the former defense officials said.

“The United States probably faces the most complex and volatile security situation that we’ve faced in a long time, if ever,” said Eric Edelman, former defense undersecretary and member of the National Defense Panel.

He told senators that the military is increasingly stressed by recent and impending cuts and the growing costs of keeping personnel in the field, such as retirement and health care. Meanwhile, it faces surging global challenges including the spread of Islamic radicalism in the Middle East and Africa, Russian influence in Ukraine, and Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon.

New spending is needed on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; cyberspace capabilities; joint coalition command and control operations; long range strike capabilities; and electric and direct-energy weapons to ensure a continued technical edge, Edelman said.

To boost investments in the military, the Pentagon should use a budget strategy built on security needs before considering the cost, a method that was last used in 2012 under Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Edelman said.

Michèle Flournoy, also an NDP panelist and former undersecretary, said the first priority of the Senate should be repealing the cap this year on the defense budget, which would allow a modest a $1.7 billion increase in the base budget. The Defense Department also has an Overseas Contingency Operations budget that is not subject to the caps and the White House has proposed to fund at $50.9 billion in 2016.

“We cannot restore readiness and invest in our technological edge unless we do so,” Flournoy said.

But repealing the caps will be difficult. Congress has imposed the spending limits as part of a deal to reduce the national debt over time and so far, a new bargain on easing or eliminating them has been elusive.

The battle on Capitol Hill has pitted Republicans who want more fiscal discipline or to lift the defense caps and reduce other discretionary federal spending against Democrats who oppose taking money from other federal programs.

Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said the increases proposed to the defense budget on Tuesday could equal $1 trillion over a decade. At the same time, interest on federal debt could grow to larger than the entire defense budget by 2019 if the government’s spending is not reined in.

He told Edelman and Flournoy that reductions in discretionary spending are key to fixing the fiscal problems.

“You don’t have the stress that we have every day with every other agency and department coming to us for more money,” Sessions said.

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

 

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