The powerful chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee doesn’t support more increases in Tricare health insurance fees and is worried about how budget limits could force faster and more painful personnel cuts.
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., also complains that there are billions in shortfalls in the Obama administration’s proposed $649.1 billion defense budget for fiscal 2013.
In a March 9 letter to the House Budget Committee, McKeon doesn’t say how much he believes should be allocated to defense, but he identifies shortages in Navy shipbuilding, Air Force and Navy strike fighters, air-to-air missiles, and the overall number of Air Force aircraft as troubling issues, as well as the industrial bases to build Army tactical wheeled vehicles and to arm brigade combat teams.
He also expresses concern about operations and maintenance accounts, especially in equipment maintenance, and warns of risks from reduced funding for missile defense and for the modernization of nuclear weapons.
“There are significant holes,” McKeon said of the 2013 defense plan.
McKeon raises two separate concerns about proposed reductions to the size of the active-duty military.
First, he is concerned the Army and Marine Corps could be forced to make precipitous cuts in their active forces if troop withdrawals are accelerated from Afghanistan. This could happen, he said, because war-related contingency funds are being used to pay for 49,700 active-duty soldiers and 15,200 active-duty Marines.
If combat operations wrap up and funding is cut, the two services would be forced “to accelerate manpower reductions or fund the personnel from other accounts, which will most certainly break faith with the all-volunteer force,” he said.
The Army, working on a plan to drop from 552,100 soldiers this year to 490,000 in fiscal 2017, wants to limit reductions to 10,000 to 17,000 a year, but would be forced to make a steeper decline without contingency funds. The Marine Corps, dropping from 202,100 Marines in 2013 to 182,100 in 2017, wants to limit reductions to no more than 5,000 a year.
The second personnel issue raised by McKeon is the need to increase mandatory spending caps within the defense budget so that the services may use early retired pay and voluntary separation pay to help shape the force as it gets smaller. Within an increase in the spending caps, the services would have to use less expensive involuntary separations to make reductions, McKeon said.
Spending $4 billion more over 10 years would help the Navy delay the retirement of some ships, and spending $1.5 billion more on Army procurement would maintain the industrial base for M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley fighting vehicles, he said in a 12-page letter to the House Budget Committee, a panel that will soon recommend spending limits for various federal programs.
In contrast to McKeon’s letter, the Democrat chairman and the ranking Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee essentially endorsed the Obama administration’s proposed budget in their joint March 8 letter to Senate Budget Committee.
“At this time, we believe that the funding levels we are recommending allow us to meet our current national security requirements,” said the letter signed by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman, and John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican.