Armed Services chairman warns of 'horrific cuts' to defense budget
The defense budget faces "horrific cuts" if sequestration returns in fiscal year 2016, a top congressional leader said Monday at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
During his tour of Wright-Patterson, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon also said President Barack Obama should listen to military commanders' advice on the number of "boots on the ground" needed to battle the Islamic State in the Middle East.
"I think it's foolhardy to think as important as airstrikes are that we can totally do it with that," McKeon said. "There are going to have to be boots on the ground. Now, we're not talking about divisions of troops that are going to go over and do another shock and awe. That's not in the cards. But there will be, there are, boots on the ground, and I think we should be honest with the American people and state up front that that is a fact of life.
McKeon said Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, commander of Central Command and troops in the Middle East, had asked for more "boots on the ground." President Obama overruled Austin's recommendation for more troops in at least one battle in Iraq, The Washington Post reported this month.
"Their advice should be followed and whatever number they come up with is the number we should send," McKeon said. "We shouldn't ask them to carry out a mission and then not give them what they asked for to carry out that mission."
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee this month, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he would recommend sending U.S. ground troops to Iraq if airstrikes weren't enough, The New York Times reported.
The U.S. has committed about 1,600 troops in support roles in Iraq in recent months after U.S. troops withdrew in 2011. Obama has ordered ongoing air strikes in Iraq and Syria against terrorist targets.
Repeated messages were left Monday with the White House press office requesting a response to McKeon's comments.
McKeon, who will retire at the end of his term, said he recently returned from a trip to Israel, Jordan and Egypt and leaders in those nations warned about the "imminent threat" the Islamic State poses. He said foreign fighters pose a threat to the United States and Europe, too.
The leaders were "very concerned. If you're in Jordan, half of their population are refugees fleeing from terrorist threats. They all pointed out to me that the ocean won't protect you this time."
In the midst of turmoil overseas, McKeon said military commanders have planned a budget without automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, "hoping it just goes away."
"I said it still is the law of the land and if something isn't done to get rid of sequestration next year it will be horrific for our military budget," he said.
Sequestration would cut about $500 billion out of the defense budget over a decade on top of the nearly $500 billion the Pentagon had agreed to eliminate in spending. Automatic budget cuts forced the furloughs of thousands of civil service employee furloughs and a spectrum of cuts at Wright-Patterson last year.
The military faces constant pressure with new missions, from military strikes in the Middle East to responding to the Ebola epidemic in Africa, McKeon said.
"It's hard for me to conceive of the continued pressure that we put on our military," he said. "...We just keep asking our military to do more and more while we're cutting a trillion dollars out of their resources."
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, toured the base with McKeon and said the Senate, House and the president "have all said sequestration should not take effect in 2016." But there's no agreement on what the budget offset should be to makeup for the reductions.
"It's not likely that an agreement is going to be easy as to what that offset would be, but it will be necessary in order to be able to avoid it," said Turner, chairman of the House Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee.