The top members of the House Armed Services Committee signaled today that they will not accept cuts to the overall defense budget, arguing that a nation at war cannot afford them. And a senior member of the committee from Virginia threatened to issue subpoenas if Congress does not get data and documents from the Pentagon very soon about the underlying reasons for the closure of Joint Forces Command.
"I think I speak for the overwhelming majority on this committee, regardless of party, when I tell you that I do not support cutting the defense budget at this time," HASC chairman Rep. Ike Skleton said at a Wednesday morning hearing on Pentagon efficiencies. The national security challenges this nation faces around the world dictate that we maintain the recent growth in our ground forces, the Army and the Marine Corps; that we modernize our Air Force; and that we grow our Navy. To do this, we must continue to grow the base defense budget for some time to come."
Skelton was echoed by the panel's top Republican, Rep. Buck McKeon. "My first concern is where we find $20 billion a year in cuts—in the midst of two wars—without also cutting back on required weapons and services needed to meet the threats of today and tomorrow. [Deputy Defense] Secretary Lynn, you’ve already announced that at least a third of the savings will come from within the force structure and modernization accounts—the same accounts the Secretary is attempting to grow. We have seen that setting arbitrary targets for cost savings, as appears to have happened with insourcing, can frequently not yield the expected results," McKeon said.
While the Obama administration has publicly committed to keeping the defense budget rising at least one percent in real terms each year for the foreseeable future, House lawmakers were clearly concerned that the search for efficiencies would lead to cuts, especially to force structure.
Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn said he understood the pain specific cuts can bring, saying "everyone" supports the department's quest to save money and be more efficient but they oppose specific actions. "If we don't make those tough decisions, then we won't get to that 100 billion dollars," Lynn said.
While the committee sent a general message about the likely fate of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' crusade for $100 billion in efficiencies, it also probed deeply about whether it makes sense to disestablish Joint Forces Command. "As long as I am chairman I am going to do all I can to ensure that [joint] culture persists. I don't want to see that slip away," Skelton said, adding that he believed the four services would revert to "stovepipes" should JFCom vanish.
But Lynn argued that the command had grown three times in size since its creation without a substantial increase in mission, adding that he was "not sure that Joint Forces Command is the right way to" ensure America's service fight and train jointly.
Rep. Forbes, clearly channeling the fear and confusion of his constituents and angry with the paucity of information coming out of the Pentagon so far, warned his colleagues that the Pentagon could do something similar "anywhere across the country." If they "keep stonewalling" he said. The administration had placed a "gag order" on JFCom personnel, forbidding them from discussing plans to dissolve the command or to offer reasons to keep it.
One member raised a rare voice in support of the administration's plans. Rep. Mike Coffman, a Coloradan who served in both the Army and the Marines, said jointness is now so "ingrained" in the military that the administration is right to reconsider the command's fate.