A key House subcommittee chairman will launch a counteroffensive July 26 against efforts to dramatically cut the defense budget.
Swimming against the tide of lawmakers pushing to slash federal spending, Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's readiness panel, is calling the service vice chiefs to testify Tuesday about the risk of large cuts in the defense budget.
"All I want them to do is be honest about the state of readiness risks that we have in the military today, and the impact we might have in terms of some of these major cuts coming our way," Forbes said in an interview.
"One of the most frightening things that we see is some of these proposals that will cut almost $1 trillion out of the national defense of our country," Forbes said, referring to two separate proposals pending before Congress that would cut about $1 trillion over 10 years in the defense budget as part of a broader effort to reduce the national debt and deficit.
Forbes said debate on defense spending today seems to be focused on how much can be afforded and how much can be cut, but not on how much is actually needed and what gaps may now exist. "Nobody is asking the question about what risk we put the country in," he said.
There may not be much time for Forbes to influence the debate about cutting defense spending, as Congress faces an Aug. 2 deadline to prevent a default by the federal government that requires raising the legal limit on how much the U.S. can borrow, cutting spending or a combination of the two.
"The clock may run out on me," Forbes acknowledged, but he added that he hopes the testimony from the vice chiefs will help make a case that military spending should not face a significant reduction as part of any deficit reduction agreement. Forbes said he won't vote for any plan that includes big defense cuts, and hopes others will do the same if he can show the risk of such cuts.
"What we have to do is change the debate," he said, noting that many members of Congress have been acting like "deer caught in the headlights," paralyzed about budget questions and waiting for someone to come up with a plan. "I think the Pentagon has been doing that and our military leaders have been doing that too," he said.