DOD Leaders Strongly
Urge Congress to Preserve Budget Request
June 13, 2012
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta cautioned Congress today against
dismantling the strategic framework that supports the 2013 defense
Testifying along with Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, before the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense
subcommittee, the secretary said some changes to the request could
undermine the careful balance department leaders built into military
“Some of the [congressional] committees have … made changes with regard
to our recommendations that we're concerned about,” Panetta said.
He listed three areas DOD leaders have targeted for cuts, and which some
members of Congress have challenged during defense budget consideration.
“Some of the bills seek to reverse the decisions to eliminate aging and
lower-priority ships and aircraft,” the secretary noted. “My concern is
that if these decisions are totally reversed, then I've got to find
money somewhere … to maintain this old stuff.”
Keeping outdated equipment in service would rob needed funds from other
areas, he said. That, he added, would lead to what he has long called a
“hollow force” – a military that is not trained, manned or equipped to
meet current and future threats.
“We've got to be able to retire what is aged and what we can achieve
some savings on,” Panetta said.
Some in Congress have also objected to “the measured and gradual
reductions in end strength that we've proposed for the Army and the
Marine Corps,” he added. Panetta noted that under current plans, DOD
will reduce the active Army from roughly 560,000 to 490,000, while the
Marine Corps will downsize from 202,000 to 182,000 over five years.
“Again, if I have a large force and I don't have the money to maintain
that large force, I'm going to end up hollowing it out, because I can't
provide the training [and] I can't provide the equipment,” the secretary
said. “So that's why, if we're going to reduce the force, then I've got
to be able to do it in a responsible way.”
The third spending area he discussed involves military compensation and
health care. The budget request includes some additional fees for
retiree health care, and limits active-duty pay raises after 2013.
Panetta and Dempsey both emphasized that the department does not plan to
cut pay, but that compensation cost growth must be controlled to meet
“If I suddenly wind up with no reductions in that area, I've got to
reach someplace to find the money to maintain those programs, ... every
low-priority program or overhead cost that is retained will have to be
offset by cuts in higher-priority investments in order to comply with
the Budget Control Act,” he said.
Panetta noted that act, which mandated the defense spending cuts
reflected in the fiscal 2013 request, also holds a more dire threat to
military spending: sequestration. That provision will trigger another
$500 billion across-the-board cut in defense spending over the next
decade if Congress doesn’t identify an equivalent level of spending cuts
“Obviously, this is a great concern,” he said, calling sequestration a
“It would guarantee that we hollow out our force and inflict severe
damage on our national defense,” the secretary asserted.
Dempsey also spoke about the damage changes to defense spending plans
The strategy-based budget request, the chairman said, “ensures we retain
our conventional overmatch while divesting capabilities not required in
the active force -- or at all.”
The spending plan reflects choices that maintain a needed balance among
force structure, modernization, readiness, pay and benefits, he added.
“Different choices will produce a different balance,” the chairman
cautioned. “So before giving us weapons we don't need or giving up on
reforms that we do need, I'd only ask you to make sure it's the right
choice, not for our armed forces but for our nation.
“Sequestration is absolutely certain to upend this balance,” he
continued. “It would lead to further end-strength reductions, the
potential cancellation of major weapons systems and the disruption of
Dempsey said slashing another half-trillion dollars from defense funding
over the next 10 years under sequestration would transform U.S. forces
“from being unquestionably powerful everywhere to being less visible
globally and presenting less of an overmatch to our adversaries. That
transformation would, in turn, change the nation’s deterrent stance and
potentially increase the likelihood of conflict, the chairman said.
general noted that because the law allows defense leaders to cut
spending in only certain areas, only three broad areas would be
available to service chiefs faced with sequestration: training,
maintenance and modernization.
“That's it. There's no magic in the budget at that point,” Dempsey said.
“And those three accounts will be subjected to all of the cuts mandated
Panetta appealed to the senators to take action to avert a “potential
disaster” by preserving the strategy-based defense spending plan
submitted in February.
“I know the members of this committee are committed to working together
to stop sequester, and I want you to know that we are prepared to work
with you to try to do what is necessary to avoid that crisis,” he said.