GOP vs. the generals all over again

The nation’s top military officers formed a solid front in the Senate on Tuesday and called on members of Congress to stop passing temporary spending measures and avert the automatic budget cut known as sequester. “We should resist kicking this can further down the road,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of ...

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The nation’s top military officers formed a solid front in the Senate on Tuesday and called on members of Congress to stop passing temporary spending measures and avert the automatic budget cut known as sequester.

“We should resist kicking this can further down the road,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a rare hearing featuring nearly all of the Joint Chiefs, who lined up before the Senate Armed Service Committee and demanded budget clarity in the name of national security and military readiness.

Many Republicans are calling on Congress to keep the sequesteration threat on the table to pressure the White House into accepting additional non-defense federal spending cuts. But military leaders long ago lost their patience for the sequester threat. Republicans last spring got into trouble when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) claimed the generals did not really agree with President Obama's defense budget despite their testimony to the contrary. The Joint Chiefs publicly pushed back, arguing they stood by their testimony, and Ryan walked back his allegation. But the message carried through the presidential election campaign — the generals were not backing conservatives seeking to keep defense spending at historically high levels.

The nation’s top military officers formed a solid front in the Senate on Tuesday and called on members of Congress to stop passing temporary spending measures and avert the automatic budget cut known as sequester.

“We should resist kicking this can further down the road,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a rare hearing featuring nearly all of the Joint Chiefs, who lined up before the Senate Armed Service Committee and demanded budget clarity in the name of national security and military readiness.

Many Republicans are calling on Congress to keep the sequesteration threat on the table to pressure the White House into accepting additional non-defense federal spending cuts. But military leaders long ago lost their patience for the sequester threat. Republicans last spring got into trouble when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) claimed the generals did not really agree with President Obama’s defense budget despite their testimony to the contrary. The Joint Chiefs publicly pushed back, arguing they stood by their testimony, and Ryan walked back his allegation. But the message carried through the presidential election campaign — the generals were not backing conservatives seeking to keep defense spending at historically high levels.

Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, said his force already was “struggling” to operate under the continuing resolution funding the government at 2012 spending levels. Operating at those levels translates to a $945 million shortfall to FY 2013 requirements the Marines must meet, he claimed.

“There should be no misunderstanding; the combined effect of the continuing resolution and sequestration will have a significant effect on the global security climate, the perceptions of our enemies, and the confidence of our allies,” he said, in his opener.

Amos said that by the end of this year, fewer than half of U.S. Marines will be trained to the Corps’ minimum requirements for deployments. “Marine Corps readiness is at a tipping point,” he argued.

Similiarly, Adm. Mark Furgeson, vice chief of naval operations, asked Congress to eliminate the sequestration threat altogether. Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, urged Congress to “do all that is necessary” to avert sequestration and pass a fiscal 2013 defense spending bill.

But Republicans, in preemptive statements, looked right past the brass and continued to pressure President Obama to accept their proposals to temporarily replace sequestration’s cuts to defense spending with other domestic spending cuts.

Ranking member James Inhofe (R-OK) quoted several warnings by Obama’s cabinet members and generals against allowing sequester cuts to occur, but then argued it was all the more reason Obama should accept his proposal, which only staves off cuts until this October.

“The President must lead. The President must be pragmatic. And the President must set aside political posturing and finally get serious about working with Congress to find a lasting solution to sequestration. The men and women in uniform deserve nothing less,” he said, in his opening statement.

The hearing continues through Tuesday morning.

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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