Washington: In the last few days one thing has become crystal clear: the Obama administration — from the Pentagon to the Situation Room to OMB — has decided America cannot sustain defense cuts that go beyond the currently planned $450 billion.
We knew the Pentagon felt this way ever since a carefully masked “senior Pentagon official” said that the Super Committee should raise taxes and cut entitlements. He was followed the next day by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta raising the specter of “Doomsday” should the congressional Super Committee fail to do its job of cutting $1.2 trillion from the federal budget.
But the defense industry, in what many have called an unprecedented unified effort, remained spooked. It created its Second to None group and bombarded poor reporters with Tweets and emails about the dangers posed by sequestration, as the automatic cuts that would be made should the Super Committee fail are known.
Republican lawmakers from both house of Congress rose to speak out against any deeper cuts, especially at a time of war.
But the White House remained officially mum after sending out conflicting signals. Then came the letter from Jacob Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget declaring that, “it is critical we avoid triggering additional deep cuts in defense and non-defense programs.” The letter, sent to the chairmen of the House Budget, Armed Services and defense appropriations committees, also says that a White House-ordered review of America’s defense’s “missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world” should be finished “later this fall.” The president will make decisions about future defense budget cuts after that review is finished,” Lew wrote.
Take all that together and it seems pretty clear that the White House, while carefully accepting the rights and privileges of the congressional Super Committee believes deeper cuts should not be made. Period.
But senior Pentagon officials and numerous defense experts — as well as many lawmakers — believe cuts of another $200 billion over 10 years are almost a given. And in a sign of just how worried some lawmakers are about that, Rep. Mike Coffman has written to the Super Committee with his own plan to cut $103 billion. While Coffman is a former Marine and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, he is also a Tea Party supporter who has a debt clock ticking away on his official web page.
Essentially, Coffman proposes moving lots of active duty military service members to the National Guard and the Reserves.
“By phasing the functions of 100,000 active-duty service members into the National Guard and Reserve, our nation could realize significant cost-savings without compromising our national security. For example, the average cost of an active-duty U.S. Army soldier is $130,000 per year, not including retirement pay and retiree health care benefits. That same soldier costs $43,000 in the National Guard and $37,000 in the Reserves,” he writes.
“This strategy works if the National Guard is prohibited from deploying beyond America’s borders except in the event of a declared war or national emergency,” Doug Macgregor, a longtime advocate of changes to new force structure for the Army and Marines. Macgregor is a member of the AOL Board of Contributors. “This is a strategy I would strongly support, particularly if the Guard is refocused on homeland security and disaster relief.”
On top of the Guard shift, Coffman wants to cut plans to lengthen service tours in South Korea and allow soldiers to serve with their families there.
“In spite of the high cost of maintaining garrisons in Europe and South Korea, the Department of Defense is actually seeking to expand our overseas presence by changing the tours of duty in South Korea from a one year assignment, unaccompanied by family members, to a three-year tour of duty in which the service member’s families would accompany them.
“The proposed military construction necessary to accommodate these families in South Korea would cost the American taxpayers a further $13 billion over the next 10 years. While I certainly understand the value of minimizing the separation of our service members from their families whenever possible, I believe we should suspend the plan to change the tours of duty in South Korea and save the planned $13 billion in military construction cost,” Coffman says.