US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is defending his department’s slimmed-down, US$614 billion budget plan, telling senators that it is time to step up and show they are serious about reducing the deficit.
In testimony prepared for yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Panetta warned lawmakers that budget cuts would hit all 50 states, adding that the reductions had been carefully planned and there was little room for changes.
Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey can expect to meet resistance from lawmakers, who have expressed reservations about gutting defense and potentially eroding national security.
The proposed defense budget for the year beginning on Oct. 1 includes US$525.4 billion in base spending and another US$88.5 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The total is nearly US$32 billion less than this year’s budget.
“It was this congress that mandated, on a bipartisan basis, that we reduce the defense budget and we need your partnership to do this in a manner that preserves the strongest military in the world,” Panetta said in the written testimony, which was obtained by reporters.
“This will be a test of whether reducing the deficit is about talk or action,” he said.
Defense officials have laid out plans to find about US$260 billion in savings during the next five years, including moves to slash the size of the US Army and Marine Corps, cut back on shipbuilding and delay the purchase of some fighter jets and other weapons systems.
The plan also slashes war spending. Money for Iraq and Afghanistan will drop from US$115 billion this year to US$88.5 billion, with less than US$3 billion spent for security in Iraq. It also cuts in half the amount spent on training and equipping Afghanistan’s security forces, a crucial element to the US effort to withdraw forces gradually and transfer security responsibility to the Afghans.
While military personnel still would get a 1.7 percent pay raise, retirees would get hit with a series of increases in healthcare fees, co-pays and deductibles. The impact would be greater on those who are under 65 and are likely to have another job, as well as on those who make more money.
Senators also said on Monday that US President Barack Obama and his defense team have made no plans to deal with an additional US$492 billion in across-the-board military cuts that will occur in January next year if congress does not act to avoid them.
Panetta said that since it is now apparent what the current cuts will do, he hopes that congress will be persuaded to avoid the additional reductions.