UPDATE: This story, originally published Feb. 10, was updated to include details about the bill's sponsorship and to correct the bill's end-strength target.
WASHINGTON — Two lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee plan to introduce legislation Thursday to stop ongoing drawdowns for the Army and Marine Corps, potentially adding 55,000 soldiers back into Army plans.
Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., said Wednesday that his bipartisan bill would, if approved, stop the drawdown. He argued the world is less safe than it was when the Obama administration announced the troop cuts, pointing to threats from the Islamic State group, Russia, China and North Korea.
“The assumptions have significantly changed,” Gibson told reporters on Wednesday, adding later: “Stay tuned, in the very near future we’re going to have some legislative action come forward, but we think it’s essential … that this drawdown needs to stop, and that the next president make assessments of what the proper level of land forces should be.”
The chairman of the House Tactical Air Land subcommittee, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, is co-sponsoring the bill with Gibson.
The bill would revise the Army’s planned end-strength goal from 980,000 to 1,035,000, for a total that falls slightly below the Army's pre-Sept. 11, 2001 troop levels, according to a Gibson spokesman. It would also call for Marine Corps end-strength to fall no lower than 184,000.
The Army plans to reduce its force to 980,000 by 2018, including a drop from 32 to 30 brigade combat teams and other force structure changes. Troop levels would fall from 475,000 active soldiers in fiscal 2016 to 460,000 in 2017 and 450,000 in 2018. The National Guard would fall from 342,000 to 335,000 in 2017 with no reductions planned beyond that. The Army Reserve would fall from 198,000 to 195,000 .
For the Marine Corps, which planned to drawdown to 182,000 by the end of fiscal 2017, the proposed bill would in essence add back 2,000 troops. The Marine Corps drawdown to 182,000 is expected to be complete in October.
The Army estimated its reductions of about 40,000 troops would save $7 billion over four years, officials said when they were announced in July. The reduced troop levels were attributed to mandatory spending caps under the 2011 Budget Control Act.
A top Army budget official said Thursday any major changes in end-strength would complicate budgetary planning, with a ripple effect throughout its school houses, missions, recruiting and retention plans, and particularly its force structure.
“We’ve tried to align our end strength and our force structure, so depending upon if there was some kind of a change of sizable magnitude, then we would probably be looking at our force structure and the decision we made there, as well,” Maj. Gen. Thomas Horlander, the Army budget director, told reporters Wednesday.
Members of the Commission on the Future of the Army testified at a hearing of the House Tactical Air Land subcommittee that 980,000 is their recommended minimum for Army end-strength, though that number should grow if available funding or global threats increase.
Asked by the commission’s chief said he would stop the drawdown if Congress had the money to make it a reality.
“I believe to do so would be wise, and it would afford the Army the ability to gain some of those capabilities that are in shortfall,” said retired Army Gen. Carter Ham. “This is not just about the size — the size is important — but they must be properly modernized, trained and resourced.”
In a major war overseas, at 980,000 soldiers, the Army would not have enough troops to provide them with “dwell time,” the rotation home which has been common in recent conflicts.
“In a full-scale mobilization, a commitment to a large-scale operation in any future theater of war, at the size of the Army that is anticipated, there is no dwell time,” Ham said. “For the most part they deploy and they are committed for the duration.”
After the hearing, Turner appeared with Gibson at an impromptu press conference where both lawmakers decried the ongoing military drawdown.
“If the next president of the United States comes in and tries to restore the cuts to the Army, it will be a full three years before the Army is fully capable again; that would be the president’s whole first term,” Turner said. “We certainly can’t predict what threats the president might have to face. It’s important we follow through and stop this drawdown.”
The remarks came a day after the White House released its 2017 budget proposal, which for the Pentagon includes a $523.9 billion base budget and $58.8 billion wartime budget. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, Turner and other House lawmakers are arguing for more for defense.
Turner said Wednesday that he had met with House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., to discuss the matter.
“Chairman Price has heard from both current and former members of the military that the drawdown of the Army is of concern, and he is very much aware that this is something we need to look at, how we put together resources to stop it,” Turner said.
Key Republican lawmakers have decried the Army’s drawdown plans, and in July, when details were first made public, Thornberry and Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., blasted the force cuts as budget driven.
In January, Eric Fanning, the presidential nominee to become the next US Army secretary, vowed at his Senate confirmation hearing that he would review the Army cuts.
Marine Corps Times Staff Writer Jeff Schogol contributed to this report.