Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By Donna Cassata and Lolita C. Baldor / The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that automatic budget cuts would hit the Pentagon hard.
The Associated Press
He added that the Air Force could lose as many as five combat air squadrons as well as a number of other bomber and cargo aircraft.
"This strategic choice would result in a force that would be technologically dominant, but would be much smaller and able to go fewer places and do fewer things, especially if crises occurred at the same time in different regions of the world," said Hagel.
Another option, he said, would be to make fewer cuts in the size of the force, and instead cancel or curtail many modernization programs.
In addition he said that the Pentagon is taking a close look at cuts to health care benefits, military housing allowances, cost-of-living adjustments and civilian pay raises.
Hagel repeated his plans — announced two weeks ago — to cut top Pentagon and military staff and spending by 20 percent. The savings, which will apply to his office, that of the Joint Chief's chairman and also the Pentagon headquarters offices of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps., could total between $1.5 billion and $2 billion over the next five years and will target personnel, including civilians and contractors.
The details Hagel described Wednesday are the result of a lengthy review by top Pentagon and military leaders that looked at the impact of budget cuts on the department and developed a series of options to deal with them.
The cuts stem from a law enacted two years ago that ordered the government to come up with $1.2 trillion in savings over a decade. The law included the threat of annual automatic cuts as a way of forcing lawmakers to reach a deal, but they have been unable to do so.
As a result, come January, the Pentagon faces a cut of $54 billion from current spending, according to calculations by Capitol Hill budget aides. The base budget must be trimmed to $498 billion, with cuts of about 4 percent hitting already reduced spending on defense, nuclear weapons and military construction.
Congress has shown little inclination to undo the so-called sequester cuts, though talks between the White House and a handful of Senate Republicans have intensified in recent weeks.
Some lawmakers and staff aides say the new, deeper Pentagon reductions could be the jolt that prompts lawmakers to step back from the automatic cuts.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., blamed the problem on GOP lawmakers who refuse to stop the sequester. Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said that refusal is forcing the Pentagon to make "unacceptable cuts to force structure, modernization and benefits for our military personnel and retirees."
The committee's chairman, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., said the Pentagon review was budget-driven and not a substitute for real strategic planning. But he said it makes clear the cuts will cause catastrophic damage.
"We will lose our workforce and ability to recruit and retain the all-volunteer force, and our influence around the world will continue to diminish," McKeon said. "Our enemies will feel emboldened."