Unlike some of the Pentagon's top military and civilian leaders, the chief of the U.S. Army Reserve said he welcomes a plan to boost war funding that Republican lawmakers proposed to get around spending caps.
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, chief of the Army Reserve and commanding general of U.S. Army Reserve Command, said increasing the Pentagon's war budget, known as overseas contingencies operations, or OCO, would help his component better prepare and train soldiers for deployment.
"The short answer is yes, that would help us tremendously," he said during a breakfast with reporters on Thursday in Washington, D.C.
The GOP-led Congress wants to shift tens of billions of dollars from the Defense Department base budget in fiscal 2016 into the OCO account, which is used for military operations in Afghanistan and other contingencies, to avoid caps mandated by 2011 deficit-reduction legislation. The account is exempt from the restrictions.
The White House dismissed the idea as a "budget gimmick." Analysts have referred to such the padded account -- coming at a time when the U.S. maintains a drastically smaller footprint in the Middle East -- as a "slush fund." Even Defense Secretary Ash Carter described the proposal as a "road to nowhere."
But Talley said the automatic, across-the-board spending caps will be harmful to the military services, particularly the Army, because officials don't have any flexibility in prioritizing programs.
"The Army Reserve has to provide technical capability to certain real-world missions and I can't do that if I don't have op-tempo money to generate the readiness," he said. "And right now, my main funding is 39 training days a year, which is the same thing it was after World War II."
Talley added, "I can't generate a portion of that reserve to be operational regardless of whether they're lawyers or doctors or whatever they're doing, unless I get a plus-up. We use to tie that plus-up into OCO money and now OCO has gone away for the most part. So the question is, how do I get that money from the Army to do that. Well, the Army has to squeeze its base budget down ... because of sequestration. But the requirements aren't going down, they're staying the same or going up."
Talley said the Army is carrying out about 40 percent of all the missions ordered by combatant commands, yet its budget was reduced by a disproportionately larger share than the other services.
"So what does that mean?" he said. "That means we're going to have to take significant risks and maybe not to be able to do all the things we'd like to be able to do -- which might make our European friends concerned or our Pacific allies concerned."
Lawmakers will resume negotiations on the annual defense bill in September after Congress returns from summer recess. Proposed increases to pharmacy co-pays that would mostly affect military retirees have stalled the talks.