WASHINGTON — Senators on Thursday warned the United States soon would be unable to defend itself due to coming military budget cuts, but none offered a plan or talked of an effort to avoid them.
For about three hours, Senate Armed Services Committee members took turns commenting on the ills of cuts set in motion in August 2011 and implemented in March via a process known as sequestration.
Unless both chambers of Congress and the White House agree on a massive federal budget plan that includes around $1 trillion in deficit-reduction measures, planned Pentagon spending will be cut by another $450 billion over the next nine years.
“These drastic cuts and prolonged budget uncertainty are pushing the finest military in the world to the brink. On our current path, we will soon move beyond furloughs and program cuts to firings and cancellations,” said SASC Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. “This neglect has broken faith with our military and civilian men and women and the longer we allow our force to deteriorate, the harder and more expensive it will be to repair and rebuild.”
Citing comments made by military leaders, Inhofe boldly declared that, unless the pending cuts are voided, the military “will be unable to respond to contingencies around the world — a startling admission given the range of global threats we’re facing.
Panel Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., also addressed “the growing challenge of sequestration.”
“All of the things our military needs to do — responding to regional crises, maintaining readiness, training and equipping our forces, and taking care of our service members and their families — depend upon appropriate funding,” Levin said. “The damaging effect sequestration is already having, and will continue to have, on the readiness of our military must be addressed and addressed in a way that protects the vitality of our forces.”
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., noted that some in the defense sector have warned the automatic, across-the-board sequester cuts amount to “us shooting ourselves in the foot.” But Nelson on Thursday said that metaphor is lacking, saying the nature of the cuts mean “we’re shooting ourselves up the torso.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who has at times during the so-called “deficit-reduction era” (2010-present) said Pentagon budget cuts have to be part of a broader federal spending deal, also weighed in on sequestration.
Sessions said sequestration ensures a “disproportionate cut to the Defense Department.” Instead, Sessions wants cuts to domestic entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Some Democrats say they are open to finding savings in those programs as part of a deficit-addressing “grand bargain.” But they also want new federal revenues via tax hikes on the wealthy, something Sessions and other Republicans continue to oppose.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., asked Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, appearing before the panel over his nomination for a second two-year term, what defense industry executives told him during a recent visit to her area.
He replied that the industry officials delivered a report about the effects of the defense sequestration cuts that left him concerned whether the firms soon will lose their “ability to innovate.”