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Lawmakers Urging Significant Cuts in Defense Spending

Government Executive

June 14, 2010

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers on Friday urged the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility to take a hard look a military spending as the panel weighs options for reducing the nation’s growing budget deficit.

Specifically, the legislators backed a list of cuts outlined in a new report by the Sustainable Defense Task Force, a diverse group of experts the lawmakers convened.

The task force report identified $960 billion in savings that could be generated over the next decade by reducing unneeded weapons systems, cutting personnel and infrastructure, and reforming military health care, among other proposals.

In a letter to members of the fiscal responsibility commission, Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass.; Ron Paul, R-Texas; Walter Jones, R-N.C.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; noted that while they hold different views about the course of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, “none of us propose in any way to give our troops in the field anything less than everything they need.”

At a press conference Friday, Frank said, “The four of us strongly believe that unless there is a substantial reduction in American military spending over a 10-year period — close to slightly over a trillion dollars — you simply cannot deal with deficit reduction in a way that is economically and socially responsible.”

The task force made recommendations in six areas: strategic forces; conventional force structure; procurement, research and development; personnel; maintenance and logistics; and infrastructure. Task force members focused their analysis on programs judged to be based on unproven or unreliable technologies, missions with poor cost-benefit ratios, assets and capabilities that over-match existing threats and management reform.

Specific recommendations include:

• Reducing the nuclear arsenal to 1,000 warheads deployed on 160 Minuteman missiles and seven nuclear submarines.

• Cutting 200,000 troops, resulting in a peacetime active-duty force of 1.3 million.

• Capping the peacetime military presence in Europe at 35,000 and in Asia at 65,000.

• Reducing the size of the Navy fleet from 287 battle-force ships to 230 and naval air wings from 10 to eight.

• Cutting the number of active-duty Army brigade combat teams from 45 to between 39 and 41.

• Retiring four of the 27 Marine Corps infantry battalions.

• Retiring four Air Force tactical fighter wings.

• Halting or delaying major weapons programs — including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, MV-22 Osprey, KC-X Aerial Refueling Tanker and Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle — and fielding less-expensive alternatives.

• Changing how military compensation is calculated.

• Reforming the military’s health care system.

The task force report noted that federal discretionary spending has nearly doubled since 2001, and more than one-third of that increase is attributed to the Pentagon budget, excluding the costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“At a time of growing concern over federal deficits, all elements of the budget must be subjected to careful scrutiny,” said Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives, which coordinated the task force’s efforts. “The Pentagon should be no exception.”

The lawmakers’ letter to the commissioners noted the United States operates 460 military installations in more than 38 countries, excluding those in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Given that every incremental federal dollar spent today is being financed with borrowed funds, maintaining that collection of overseas bases results in a perverse daisy chain of borrowing money from foreigners, spending those borrowed funds overseas, then sending never-ending interest payments back overseas as we roll over that debt again and again,” the House members said.

“It is not realistic for a nation with limited resources to be expected to shoulder the defense burden of the entire planet. Yet American military spending today makes up approximately 44 percent of worldwide defense expenditures,” the letter said.

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