Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has a daunting task ahead of him as he looks for ways to cut the defense budget, and while he says that he must tackle the task with balance, some say that any further cuts could cause more harm than good. And if pundits predictions come true, a shift in power in the Senate might cause some ripples in the pond.
Hagel must cut $41 billion from the defense budget, scheduled to be released on March 4, and at a press conference last week he said that both Office of Management and Budget and the White House are actively working on the submission. Hagel will preview the budget plan on February 24.
The major areas of the defense budget include readiness, personnel costs, modernization, and capabilities. Hagel made it clear that all of these areas are on the chopping block.
“You have to come at all these things … from a holistic point of view,” He said at the presser.
“Will there be cuts across the board? Of course there will. You can’t do it any other way. Are there going to be adjustments across the board? Of course. But you must preserve readiness and modernization and the capability and the capacity in order to do the job of protecting this country within the framework of the resources you have. We’ll do that.”
Hagel said that he thought it was a good and effective plan, but there are others who aren’t so sure. Some question whether it’s possible to cut much more from the defense budget without leaving the nation with a hollow military, which would leave the country vulnerable and military members struggling to make ends meet.
According to Mackenzie Eaglen, defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, the FY2015 budget could mean an end to U.S. military superiority, something that politicians have simply taken for granted since the end of the cold war. Repeated deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, along with sequestration and its subsequent furloughs, means America’s technological advancement is slipping to other world powers — namely China and Russia.
Hagel said in an interview that the nation’s budget woes would cause a “decade-long modernization holiday.” And “sequestration-lite,” as Eaglen accurately characterizes the FY2015 budget, and the $41 billion in cuts would do little to improve that.
The DoD’s 2015 budget proposal is likely to include a cut to service member’s annual pay raises and a reduction in service member’s Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). Retirees would also see fee hikes for their health care coverage through the Tricare for Life program.
The budget proposal for FY2015, essentially the Obama administration’s wish list, is likely to be a hot button issue in the mid-term elections, though the Ryan/Murphy budget deal and the agreement on the debt ceiling was timed to keep budget talks out of the headlines and off the campaign trail.
This means that the defense department will be able to continue operations for some time, but whether or not they will get everything on their unfunded $26 billion wish list remains to be seen.
While some say that the Republicans are poised to take back control of the Senate, the government shutdown last October could come back to bite them, as the Democrats did an effective job of painting the situation as the fault of the GOP. The shutdown affected tens of thousands of defense department employees and created hardships for military families that are not likely to be forgotten come election time.
But many Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, aren’t completely safe either. Several seats are up for grabs due to retirements and Reid’s recent unpopular direction of leadership could be the nail in the Democrat’s coffin.
Military members and DoD civilians will be watching closely to see if the intense change fatigue will continue after the election. No one wants to go back to a military that resembles the post-Vietnam era, when soldiers and sailors were making due with outdated equipment and technology, and wondering if there would be enough money for office supplies and food in the chow hall.