Paul Ryan on Defense budget: Generals aren't giving us their "true advice"

money, congress, jets, defense
money, congress, jets, defense

Military leaders have told Congress that their proposed 2013 budget strikes the right balance between reining in costs and sufficiently supporting defense efforts, but a leading House Republican said Thursday he's skeptical Pentagon officials are being sincere.

"We don't think the generals are giving us their true advice," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said at an event in Washington. He blamed the cuts in President Obama's 2013 budget for compelling the Pentagon to create "a budget-driven strategy, not a strategy-driven budget."

Ryan's remarks came on the same day the House was set to pass a bill that would challenge the president's Pentagon budget -- and as other Republicans decried further Pentagon cuts looming on the horizon.

The Defense Department's proposed 2013 budget is $525 billion -- 2.5 percent less than this year's budget. The budget proposal is smaller next year since the Pentagon is expected to make $487 billion in cuts over the next five years because of the debt deal Mr. Obama made with Congress last summer. That change is reflected in Mr. Obama's budget, but Ryan's proposed 2013 budget -- poised to pass in the GOP-led House today -- would replace $214 billion of that.

"Let's not forget we're at war, we're stretching our Guard and reserves," Ryan said. "We have a dangerous planet. We don't want to have a budget-driven strategy which hollows out defense."

He added that his budget does apply "enough pressure on the Pentagon to get rid of waste and inefficiencies."

Mr. Obama and Pentagon officials unveiled their new defense strategy in January -- before the budget was released -- but Ryan maintained that Pentagon officials will have to downsize their goals under the current budget.

"They think they need a 313-ship Navy. They're not going to come anywhere close to that in this budget," Ryan said. "The equipment that is atrophying -- the replacement they're pushing out another five years."

Ryan's budget would also reverse the nearly $600 billion in Pentagon cuts coming down the pike as a result of the failure of the so-called "congressional supercommittee." Since that bipartisan committee failed last year to find $1.2 trillion in cuts, Congress is obligated under the debt deal to make $600 billion in automatic cuts from the Pentagon budget and $600 billion in cuts elsewhere.

While Pentagon officials say they're on board with the 2013 cuts, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last year that the additional $600 billion in cuts would be devastating and would "tear a seam in the nation's defense."

Ryan's budget would roll back those cuts and call on congressional committees to come up with other spending cuts to make up for the lost government revenue. A group of Republican senators today emphatically called for the reversal of the $600 billion in cuts and commended Ryan's bill. They noted Panetta's remarks about the negative impacts the cuts could have, as well as the impact it could have on the job market.

"We're talking about thousands of jobs" at stake, said New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, "in my home state of New Hampshire the impact would be 3,300 jobs."

Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl said the aerospace industry is "larger than the entire U.S. auto industry" -- an industry that Mr. Obama was willing to invest tens of billions into in order to save it.

At the same Washington event that Ryan attended, senior policy analyst Laura Peterson, with the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense, said that she expects the cuts to come out of the Defense budget "one way or another." Still, she said she expects "lots of choreography to make it look like the Pentagon is in control."

It's not uncommon for military officials and defense industry lobbyists to pressure congressmen to think of the jobs at stake, Peterson said. However, she said, "National security is not a jobs program. Its function is not to put a chicken in every pot."

"The Pentagon is an enormous bureaucracy," she said, noting that it's hard for the public to understand what expenses are necessary for national security and what expenses could be cut. "It's bigger than most governments in the world. It employs more people than Walmart, the largest corporation."