Pentagon calls on Congress to change defense bill
By JON HARPER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 9, 2014
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon called on Congress to change the $600 billion defense bill that a powerful congressional committee recently approved, surprising given the fact that the Defense Department generally refuses to comment on pending legislation.
In response to a reporter’s question about the legislation, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby expressed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s unhappiness with the outcome.
“The secretary was certainly not pleased by the House Armed Services Committee markup of the budget,” Kirby said Friday. “He firmly stands by — resolutely stands by the budget that we submitted because it was — because it was strategic in tone and because it was tied to a defense strategy that made sense … for the kind of future we’re going to face while accepting very real fiscal realities.”
Military leaders had proposed cuts to troop benefits, older weapon systems and excess infrastructure in its budget submission earlier this year in order to pump more money into readiness and modernization during a time of spending constraints.
But lawmakers defied the Pentagon’s requests. The Fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act approved by the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday blocked several major Pentagon initiatives, including:
- Proposals to cap troop pay raises at 1 percent.
- Proposals to reduce subsidies to commissaries.
- Proposals to rein in healthcare costs by requiring military families and retirees to pay more for healthcare.
- The Air Force’s plan to retire the A-10 Warthog fleet.
- A new round of Base Realignment and Closure.
All of those cuts would have been politically unpopular.
The legislation has to pass several hurdles before it becomes law, and Hagel hopes that the by the time the NDAA reaches President Barack Obama’s desk, it will have been significantly modified to his liking.
“We’re very early on in the process,” Kirby said. “The secretary certainly hopes that when it gets to the Senate and into conference, that the Congress will prove capable of seeing the wisdom again in the decisions that we’ve made and [will be] willing to make those same tough choices and put national security first over parochial interests.”
Kirby also suggested that Hagel might move to get rid of excess infrastructure without Congress’ approval, if necessary.
“He continues to believe that another round of BRAC is necessary. We’ve got to reduce some of the infrastructure … around the world but also here in the continental [United] States,” Kirby said. “He would obviously prefer that that’s the way forward is through another round of [congressionally approved] BRAC … [but] there are some Title X authorities that he has to reduce infrastructure.”
Kirby did not provide specifics about the authorities that Hagel could potentially use to close military facilities.