Defense spending is scheduled to be slashed by $40 billion for fiscal year 2016, which begins in October. That’s a cut that the armed forces can hardly afford as they grapple with challenges from the Ebola plague in Africa to the ISIS plague in the Middle East.
The military chiefs testified again yesterday about the cost of the cuts that have already been inflicted on their service. The litany is by now depressingly familiar: troops that can’t train, ships that can’t sail, aircraft that can’t fly.
The larger cost, as Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, noted, is a loss of trust among the troops: “As they see we’re not going to invest in them, [our soldiers] begin to lose faith. Sometimes we take for granted the level of ability of our people, and the level of investment we’ve made in their training, which is central to everything we do. With sequestration, we are going to have to reduce that for sure.”
Yet the outlooks for actually repealing or relaxing sequestration–the budget process that imposes mandatory cuts in “discretionary” federal spending–is at best uncertain. It’s true that Republicans took control of both houses of Congress in the last election, but there is no unanimity in their ranks over what to do about defense spending. The internal battle within the GOP pits budget hawks vs. defense hawks. Democrats, led by President Obama, are exacerbating the situation by insisting on spending increases for domestic programs and “revenue enhancements” (i.e., tax hikes) as the price of more defense spending–both anathema to the GOP’s fiscal conservatives.
The result: As Politico notes, the Pentagon is once again approaching a fiscal cliff.
Mind you, this is happening as the global security situation is getting worse: Islamist extremists are making major gains from Nigeria to Syria, countries from Libya to Yemen are in chaos, Russia is once again stepping up its aggression in Ukraine, Iran is continuing work on its nuclear program, and China continues its destabilizing defense buildup which, if left unchecked, will dramatically alter the balance of power in the Western Pacific. Yet our political class, on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue (with some notable exceptions such as John McCain and Mac Thornberry, the chairman of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees), prefers to avert its gaze and refuses to make the hard decisions necessary to fully fund defense.
This is nothing less than a bipartisan disgrace–and the men and women in uniform, whom politicians always profess to revere, will pay the price for the lack of leadership in Washington.