- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee is dedicated to preserving U.S. military might in the face of sequester-related forced cuts to the Pentagon’s budget.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, in his first major speech as committee chair, said that over the past few years Congress has repeatedly had to salvage warplanes and other military equipment the Pentagon has tried to cut because of its shrinking budget. The Texas Republican aims to work through sequester cuts, without sacrificing military capabilities.

“Sometimes, the Pentagon is penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Mr. Thornberry told an audience of analysts and reporters at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research on Tuesday. “Sometimes, there is parochialism within the Pentagon. Sometimes, the White House tries to slash military capability so that they can send money elsewhere in the federal budget. Sometimes their priorities are just plain wrong.”

For example, in an effort to save money, Pentagon officials tried to discontinue the production of one of the military’spremier, hunter-killer spy planes and retire the A-10 combat aircraft, Mr. Thornberry said. Lawmakers fought to retain those weapons, which are currently being used to gather intelligence on Islamic State militants and destroy oil collection sites and artillery systems in Iraq and Syria, he said.

In real terms, sequester cuts have led to a 21 percent reduction in the defense department budget compared to 2010, Mr. Thornberry explained. And while there’s no plan yet to repeal the sequester deal, Mr. Thornberry said he would support any measure that could pass through Congress.

“As long as I am privileged to hold this job, defense reform will be a priority – not for its own sake, but for the sake of ensuring our military is as prepared as possible for the wide array of threats we face today and for the unknown security challenges which confront us tomorrow,” Mr. Thornberry said.

In an unexpected move last year, the White House dedicated more military resources to attacking Islamic State terrorists in Syria. The same weapons the defense department proposed to cut – like the spy planes – are currently being deployed to carry out that mission.

Moreover current resources are wearing thin. Last week, Air Force officials reiterated that message saying their drone pilots were under “significant stress” from waging overseas battles and in need of relief.

“The world is getting more unstable,” said Diem Salmon, a senior policy analyst on defense budgets at The Heritage Foundation, referring to stepped up military efforts with the Islamic State and Russia’s encroachment on Crimea. “You see the military having to do a little bit more in response.”

And in order to carry out that response, a robust budget is needed.

According to the defense department, the sequester called for cuts to its budget of more than $50 billion in both 2013 and 2014 in order to meet both the White House and Congress’s call for a more balanced federal budget and to stymie the rising deficit. Although those cuts were reduced to a little more than $30 billion in those years because of the passage of some subsequent laws, the defense department is still struggling to know when and what to cut to meet those demands.

“The Budget Control Act limits were set in 2011, and if you actually think about what the world was like in 2011 and what the world is like today when we are about to implement that level, it’s actually quite stark,” said Ms. Salmon. “We have [the Islamic State]. We have Crimea … the world is getting more unstable.”

Mr. Thornberry agrees.

“It’s about whether we have the capability to do what the nation needs and the times demand,” he said. “It’s also very much about the increased danger that comes to our people from diminished training, aging equipment, and a tempo of operation that stretches them and their families just too far.”

Although Mr. Thornberry was quick to point out the Pentagon’s problems, he failed to take responsibility for creating some of the issues that are currently plaguing the U.S. military, said Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies Executive Director Doug Birkey.

“Many of the negatives he cites are directly attributable to congressional factors – changing requirements, unpredictable funding, lack of long-term focus, etc.,” Mr. Birkey said.

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