Senators on the Armed Services Committee said Thursday that it is time to revisit the Army’s proposed draw-down due to growing threats abroad, with focus on the Islamic State and rising tensions with Russia.
According to Stripes, The Committee members’ comments were backed up later in the day by 12 House lawmakers filing a bill to block any of the Army’s planned cuts in manpower.
The sudden opposition came just as the Army had unveiled its budget proposal for 2017 this week and lawmakers began hearings on funding the military. With reducing troop numbers being one of the methods proposed for the Army to save money due to spending caps imposed by Congress, resistance by Washington will likely trigger a fight over how to pay for more troops.
Concerning the future of Army numbers, Republican Senator Kelly Ayote of New Hampshire was less than enthusiastic about troop cuts. “It seems to me when I hear some of these threats it is time for us to think about not drawing down and how we can best protect this nation,” she said on Thursday.
John McCain (R,AZ) criticized what he called “budget-driven” cuts that in no way fit the current needs of the military.
“On the present course, we are running the risk that in a crisis, we will have too few soldiers who will enter a fight without proper training or equipment,” he said.
The Army announced last summer that it planned to eventually reduce the overall active duty strength from 490,000 to 450,000. The cuts would impact military bases in Georgia, Texas, Alaska, Washington and Hawaii, saving t $7 billion in four years, according to the Army’s projections. Created out of necessity due to funding shortfalls.
Though it was created out of necessity, the plan has proven rather unpopular and has several opponents- President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next Army secretary, Eric Fanning, said he would reverse the drawdown if he is confirmed.
Retired Gen. Carter Ham, former chairman of a commission that recently reviewed the financial future of the Army, said he would recommend keeping higher numbers of soldiers so long as the money was available. Retired Gen. James Thurman, who also sat on the commission, expressed to the Senate his concern on the matter of the Army’s ability to confront a resurgent Russia and North Korea as it pursues to become a credible nuclear threat.
“I will tell you I am very concerned because I think we have major warning signs in front of us right now … There needs to be another analysis of what is the right-size Army that America needs,” Thurman said.
Republican Representative Mike Turner (R-OH), a subcommittee chairman on the House Armed Services Committee, and Chris Gibson (R-NY), a committee member, introduced and were the lead co-sponsors of the House bill halting a drawdown. They said that not only would lowering troop numbers now would be the wrong move amid rising threats around the world, it would tie the hands of the next President.
“It is clear from all of the testimony we’ve received and the information that we’ve received from the Army that this [drawdown] could break the Army, [and] that it would significantly hamper the next president of the United States in their opportunities and capabilities for the military to protect the country,” said Turner, chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee.
Gibson said the “assumptions have changed” since the original plan was created.
“We have seen even more stepped up attacks from the Islamic State and issues around the world on that score,” he said.
For now, it is not clear just how much reversing the drawdown may cost. With money tight in Washington, finding more of it in this already-strained fiscal season will likely require a political battle.
Due to a bipartisan deal made in November both the defense budget and the Army’s troop funding is currently capped. Despite this, House Republicans are already eyeing an emergency war fund, known as Overseas Contingency Operations, as a way to increase spending.
Though Democrats have argued that the fund is capped at just $59 billion, Republican lawmakers counter-state that this is nothing more than a floor number that can be increased.
When asked whether the drawdown debate will center on the OCO fund, Turner said: “Absolutely, I think that will be part of the debate.”
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