Defense officials pleaded with lawmakers Tuesday to undo the sequestration budget caps, noting that continued cuts will lead to decreased readiness, more casualties of American troops and a lack of confidence among allies around the world.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey defended the president’s budget request for $561 billion, $38 billion more than the caps set under the Budget Control Act of 2011, saying that that number represents the minimum amount necessary to maintain national security.
“It is what we need to remain at the lower ragged edge of manageable risk in our ability to execute the defense strategy,” Gen. Dempsey said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “There is no slack, no margin left for error nor for response to strategic surprise.”
In his first appearance before Congress since being confirmed, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the clock is ticking for Congress to undo the cuts.
“I want to be clear about this: under sequestration, which is set to return in 212 days, our nation would be less secure,” he said.
Mr. Carter also noted that while allies are often too polite to ask questions about America’s fiscal troubles, they often worry that the problems will affect America’s ability to help its friends around the world.
“It is distressing to me because they hear everything we say and they see everything we do and they get a very clear picture of the dangers of sequester,” he said. “This isn’t good for our friends.”
Gen. Dempsey and Mr. Carter echoed a message from the service chiefs to the committee earlier this year that, while the military is managing to get by on today’s shrinking budgets, there is nothing left to be cut before the country’s national security is at risk.
“Conflict will take longer to respond to and will be more costly both in dollars and in casualties,” Gen. Dempsey said. “We will be farther away and less ready than we need to be.”
Officials said it is especially important given the uncertain and volatile state of foreign affairs today, pointing to conflicts in Ukraine, Iran and the ongoing fight against the Islamic State.
Sens. John McCain and Jack Reed said they think the department should get an even larger budget than the president’s request in fiscal 2016 and supported a $577 billion plan for the department.
“Continuing to live with the unacceptable effect of sequestration is a choice. Sequestration is a law but Congress makes the laws. We can choose to end the debilitating effects of sequestration,” said Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican who serves as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.