The Pentagon is facing $50 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts, known as the sequester, annually over the next decade.
The senator said he opposed the sequester, calling it the “dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” He said the president could have given government agencies flexibility through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to choose how to execute the budget cuts but instead made it “painful” for them.
“My hope is that, as the sequester continues, the president will grant flexibility through the OMB to give much greater latitude to the great people who work in this government to make common-sense decisions,” he said.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said House Republicans are not sure whether they will go for either a long-term or short-term continuing resolution to fund the government before the current one expires on Sept. 30. He said a short-term continuing resolution would enable Congress to lessen the impact of sequestration on the Defense Department, rather than extend it for one year.
Although Hunter, who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine, said he supports a strong Navy that can project American strength and promote international trade, he called the Obama administration’s decision to pivot toward the Asia Pacific region “an absolute joke.”
“You don’t fight wars where you want to fight wars, you fight wars where you have to,” Hunter said.
He said the Asia-Pacific shift has put the Defense Department under more strain because the Navy will have to maintain that posture in the Pacific while at the same time gearing up for a war in the Middle East.
Thomas Donnelly, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said many of the past and present reforms proposed for the Pentagon are “militarily nonsensical,” such as the suggestion by Coburn and others that the military should give up F-35 fighter jets in exchange for cheaper F-18s. F-18s cannot take off from amphibious ships but only from the larger aircraft carriers, meaning they would actually cost more to operate than F-35s, he said.
He added that Americans get “an incredibly large return” from military expenditures compared to spending from other government agencies. He said the real problems are reduced training for troops due to budget cuts and other mandatory spending that Congress has failed to address.
“If our government has fiscal problems, is not because of the military,” Donnelly said. “We’re faced with entitlement overstretch, not military overstretch.”
Mandatory spending, including interest payments, will be $2.3 trillion in 2014, or about 67 percent of the president’s 2014 budget, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Entitlement programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, would take more than half of that spending.