posted on July 22, 2011 17:30
This is the second in our Happening blog series. Remember, your comments are always appreciated.
Defense to pay for fixing the deficit. That’s my headline because that is what we are hearing more and reading more about. The “Debt Ceiling Crisis” has served to focus media and other attention on the national debt. Congress is feeling the pressure to act and will feel that pressure even more as we head into the election year. The debt ceiling will be raised but that is only the beginning of the discussion on the debt. The groundwork is being laid by the White House and Congress and picked up by the media to make large cuts in the defense budget. If allowed to go unchecked we will have the hollow force that Secretary Gates warned Congress about before he turned over to Secretary Panetta. Must we repeat that mistake?
What kind of cuts are we talking about? This week we received Debt, Deficits, & Defense, a way forward. This is a report published in June by the Sustainable Defense Task Force. Who are they you ask? “The Sustainable Defense Task Force was formed in response to a request from Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), working in cooperation with Representative Walter B. Jones (R-NC), Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), to explore possible defense budget contributions to deficit reduction efforts that would not compromise the essential security of the United States.” (Quoted from the report.) In the interest of space we will mention here only task force recommendations as they apply to Navy: 1) Cancel the SSBN replacement and reduce the current Ohio class ships to 7. Ultimately the task force recommends eliminating the submarine leg of our nuclear deterrence triad. 2) Reduce the Navy combat fleet from 286 to 230 ships. 3) Cut two carrier air wings and reduce the carrier force to 9 ships. 4) Cancel the USN and USMC F-35 (also the Air Force F-35s) and “buy replacement.” 5) Cancel the MV-22 Osprey and “field alternatives.” The task force also drew from the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation to recommend changes in how military pay raises are calculated and changes to military health care provisions, namely increasing the costs to those retired under the age of 65.
At first read someone familiar with defense strategy and our Navy might ask “how can these people be serious?” For instance we all know that the SSBN leg of the triad is the most defendable and most secure so why would one cut that. “Cancel the F-35 and buy replacement.” What replacement? Start a new program that will take another 10-15 years, and what will that cost? 230 ships when the Navy says the absolute minimum to meet requirements is 313. These are serious and influential people who wrote this report. They just have a very different view of what our national defense should entail.
My point, these are not outliers and this is a serious report. Reports like this feed into White House and other Congressional statements and gain traction for the idea that defense should be a big part of fixing the deficit mess. If you are concerned enough to be reading this you need to click on the Contact Congress button on our home page and let your congressman or woman know your feelings.
The “Gang of Six” got a lot of press this week with their framework for fixing the deficit. There was much to salute in that plan, albeit just a framework and a long long way from passable legislation. Make no mistake though, it includes serious cuts to defense.
In case you missed it both the House and the Senate adopted the HASC and SASC Committee recommendations to allow an increase of $5/mo for TRI CARE Prime users (retirees) but limited DoD’s proposed indexing of fees in the out years to the percentage of cola increase for those retirees. This is the position that AUSN took in testimony to those committees. We, AUSN, are mindful of the “camel’s nose under the tent” arguments and we must be vigilant to ensure that other attacks on TRI CARE such as TRI CARE for life are repelled. As noted earlier military health care is a target because a lot of money is involved. The facts are that the majority of those rising costs are due to Active Component family costs not retiree costs. Retirees are the easy target. No one in Congress and no one in the Services want to spread costs over all military active and retired. Readers should understand that right now DoD is free to set TRI CARE enrolment fees. It is only through legislation that Congress intercedes. AUSN had taken the position that control should rest with Congress. The Department should have to ask for fee increases and justify them rather than hope Congress won’t interfere.