October 1, 2014

Obama Presents Leaner Defense Strategy

  • The federal budget is an expression of our country's values. Where we choose to spend and at what levels, how and who we tax, and the borrowing we...

President Obama joined Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey last Thursday to outline the administration’s vision for a leaner, more affordable military. The plan shifts from the capacity to fight two large ground wars simultaneously to fighting one such war while at least deterring aggression and denying victory to an opponent in a second conflict.

The plan, presented at the Pentagon, also emphasizes targeted operations and maintaining a strong strong naval presence in the Pacific, with less attention focused on Europe than in the past.

The plan calls for at least $489 billion in cuts to projected spending over the next decade. In presenting it, Obama noted that last year’s legislation to raise the debt limit requires substantial cuts in spending, including defense, to “put our fiscal house in order.”

In addition, defense could face about $500 billion in “automatic cuts” -- the Pentagon’s estimated share of the $1.2 trillion in reductions that are supposed to begin in 2013 because of the congressional super committee’s recent failure to produce a deficit-reduction plan.

Though many specific numbers won’t be released until next month as part of the President’s budget, he said there would be significant reductions in military personnel and some big weapons programs.

The administration also plans to establish a commission to explore ways to reduce the military’s personnel costs, including health care and retirement programs. These personnel costs exceeded $150 billion in Fiscal Year 2010 and have been growing at a rapid clip.

Obama said Pentagon spending would continue to grow but not as rapidly as in the past. He argued that the U.S. military would remain strong with a defense budget “that continues to be larger than roughly the next 10 countries combined.”

Some Republicans in Congress, however, criticized Obama’s plan. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon of California called the plan a “lead-from-behind strategy for a left-behind America.”

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that although he understood the need for cuts, “we must also address the broader cultural problem plaguing our defense establishment: the waste, inefficiency and ineffective programs that result from an overly consolidated military-industrial-congressional complex.”

Any credible approach to deficit-reduction must include all facets of the federal budget, including defense. The administration, Congress and military leaders should work together to establish priorities that will ensure that dollars allocated to national defense are spent as effectively as possible.