WASHINGTON (AP) — Top military officials told Congress on Tuesday that the readiness of the armed services is being threatened by across-the-board spending cuts and warned of significant reductions if there is no relief.
"We're mortgaging the future to barely meet today's needs, and that's really my concern," said Gen. Raymond Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, told the House Armed Services Committee. "We are doing everything we can just to meet the commitments that we have today, which are not overwhelming commitments. They are just basic commitments that we have to sustain normal security.
"We are mortgaging our modernization. We are mortgaging our readiness," Odierno said. "So if something bigger happens, we will not be able to respond in the way people are used to us responding."
As they testified, House Republicans unveiled a $3.8 trillion budget plan for next year that effectively breaks tight budget limits on military spending. The plan by Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., proposes to increase the Pentagon and State Department budget by padding an account, which is not subject to the automatic cuts known as sequestration.
The Budget Committee seeks more than $90 billion for that Overseas Contingency Operations account — $36 billion above the $58 billion President Barack Obama requested for fiscal 2016.
The committee called for $534 billion for the Pentagon's core budget. That's far below the $577 billion the House Armed Services Committee thought it should include.
The military chiefs said that while they want more funding any way they can get it, they expressed concern that there is not enough flexibility in the Overseas Contingency Operations account to spend the money in ways to offset recent downsizing in the services.
Secretary of the Army John McHugh said sequestration must end this year. McHugh said that if it doesn't, "every installation, every component, and nearly every program will feel the brunt of these cuts."
"Under sequestration, by 2019, we will reduce our end-strength to unconscionable levels, likely losing another six Brigade Combat Teams and potentially a division headquarters, not to mention the impact to associated enablers, contracts, facilities and civilian personnel," McHugh said.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said today's Air Force is the smallest and oldest it has ever been. She said the U.S. Air Force today cannot respond in one corner of the world without diluting its presence elsewhere. "I just hope and pray it doesn't take a catastrophe in this country to wake up," she said.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said the U.S. fleet on 9/11 stood at 316 ships. By 2008, it had declined to 278 ships, but now is on track to be above 300 again by the end of the decade.
"Cutting ships is the most damaging and least reversible course of action," Mabus said, urging Congress to follow the Navy's watchword, "Don't give up the ship."