READINESS WORRIES DEEPENED BY HILL INEPTITUDE ON BUDGETS
For an eighth straight year, a period spanning the wartime presidency of President Obama, Congress will fail to pass a defense budget on time.
It’s a wasteful misstep caused again by bitter partisanship, weak leaders and alarming apathy over the harm being done to military readiness, says senators on the armed services committee.
That harm is deep and widespread, uniformed leaders of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps told the committee last week in urging Congress both to avoid five more years of defense spending caps and to shelve its destabilizing habit of passing late-hour “continuing resolutions,” or CRs, instead of detailed and on-time defense budgets.
Accepting the inevitability of another CR this October, service chiefs still pleaded that it last weeks not months. The fear is that a lame duck Congress in November will decide newly elected lawmakers should cut the next budget deal, delaying approval of a fiscal 2017 defense budget into next calendar year, thus aggravating fiscal uncertainties for a force under stress.
Defense dollars wasted by failure to pass budgets by Oct. 1, start of the fiscal year, are estimated to be enormous. Under a CR, spending is capped at previous year levels, which delays new construction projects and weapon buys, driving up contract costs across the department.
Politic gridlock, therefore, is gobbling up chunks of real budget savings, including from spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 and enforced through the mindless tool of sequestration. After a two-year hiatus, BCA caps are set to resume in fiscal 2018.
That threat and uncertainty created by another CR were dominant themes at Thursday’s hearing. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), committee chairman, delivered a scathing indictment of the budget mess Congress has created for the military. Republicans, Democrats and the president should share the blame, he said, and have the “courage to put aside politics” in finding a solution.
Operating on stopgap deals like “continuing resolutions, omnibus spending bills and episodic budget agreements, are a poor substitute for actually doing our jobs…” said McCain. “Is it any wonder why Americans say they are losing trust in government?”
Dysfunction in Washington “has very real consequences for the thousands of Americans serving in uniform and sacrificing on our behalf...Are we serving them with a similar degree of courage? The answer, I say with profound sadness, is: We are not.”
McCain noted how five years ago, to address the nation’s ballooning debt, Congress opted to pass the BCA, which imposed arbitrary spending caps for a decade on discretionary spending including defense, rather than tackle the real issue, “the unsustainable growth of entitlement spending.”
Democrats argue the BCA resulted from the brinksmanship of Republican leaders who threatened to force a default on America’s debt rather than agree to a balanced budget deal that include raising taxes on the wealthy or closing tax loopholes that benefit special interests.
With the current defense budget $150 billion less than in 2011, McCain said, the military is struggling “to sustain higher operational tempo with aging equipment and depleted readiness, and doing so at the expense of modernizing to deal with the threats of tomorrow.”
Meanwhile forces are too small “to train for and meet our growing operational requirements against low-end threats” and still prepare “for full-spectrum warfare against high-end threats.”
BCA spending caps set to resume in the budget Congress will begin work on in February, McCain said, so “we are fooling ourselves, and deceiving the American people, about the true cost of fixing the problem.”
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