Washington’s senior lawmaker on defense issues today prodded his colleagues in Congress to show they’re serious about preventing major cuts to the active-duty Army by freeing up money to pay for the ground force they say they want.
“Many have pointed out that reducing the budget will likely result in increased risk in executing the nation’s defense strategy, and they are probably right in making that judgment,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue.
“But as the saying goes, ‘you get what you pay for,’ or in this case, what you decide not to pay for,” Smith said Tuesday at the start of a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Army.
He urged lawmakers to cancel the forced federal spending cuts known as sequestration, which were included in the 2011 Budget Control Act to compel a compromise on long-term deficit reduction.
Instead, the sequester cuts are still on the books and the Defense Department says they would force the Pentagon to reduce the size of the active-duty Army from today’s 522,000 to a force of 420,000.
“This is not what we wanted; it’s not what your Army deserves,” Army Secretary John McHugh told the committee. “But it is what we have had to do to preserve America’s land power in such an austere environment.”
The Army is on a path to draw down the number of active-duty soldiers to 490,000. President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget proposal would push the number to as low as 440,000 and the sequester cuts would lead to the worst-case force of 420,000 by 2019.
It’s not clear how the cuts will fall at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which has 32,400 soldiers and would share in any major Army downsizing.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told congressmen he’d prefer a force of 490,000 to meet the requirements of national strategic guidance for ground forces. Odierno said he could manage with 440,000 to 450,000.
"I believe this should be the absolute floor for end-strength reductions. At this level, we can meet the defense strategic guidance but as we continue to lose end strength, our flexibility deteriorates," he said.
Officials at the hearing also discussed possible cuts to the Army National Guard. Governors have organized to fend off even a small reduction in the number of the nation’s 350,000 citizen soldiers.
The Guard under sequestration could see a 5 percent cut in its ranks.
“As difficult as the reductions to the National Guard may be for individual troops affected – it only reflects a 5 percent reduction to the size of the National Guard. Given the other force structure cuts this committee has heard about this year, from aircraft carriers to hundreds of Air Force aircraft, this proposal to reduce the National Guard by 5 percent seems like a reasonable compromise,” said Smith, the ranking Democrat on the committee.