By Major General Jerry Curry, USA (Ret.)
America’s armed forces are grappling with the question of how to maintain a strong military in the face of a congressionally mandated and ever shrinking Pentagon budget. Congress needs to learn that appropriating funds for national defense is not a zero sum budgetary diversion. Congress should base the size of the nation’s military appropriations on national defense needs, not on how much money is left over after all other political and non-defense needs, such as entitlements, are satisfied.
The Administration needs to first develop a supportable worldwide national defense policy; only then does it make sense to develop a budget to support that policy. Just because non-defense spending goes down, does not mean that defense spending should also go down.
If the security of the nation is not preserved, what good is allocating money to non-security programs such as feeding, providing medical care to illegal immigrants, and educating their children. Obviously a first rate national defense is more important to the future of our children and grandchildren than optional social programs.
It is foolish to increase or decrease the numbers of troops, aircraft, aircraft carriers and submarines deployed around the world based solely on the extent of entitlement and other non-defense related spending. Until the nation’s military readiness and other defense requirements are met, Congressional spending for non-defense budgetary programs such as Medicare and Social Security should be held in abeyance.
In the current budget act Congress rewards federal retirees with over generous pension benefits and punishes military retirees with cuts in their less than generous pay and benefits. Once again Congress is increasing federal spending and paying off their political debts on the backs of the nations retired and active duty troops. Congress should be ashamed of even contemplating asking military retirees to take a hit in their retirement and benefits, pay and benefits paid for by their blood and their loss of limbs to Improvised Explosive Devices in Afghanistan.
It is important that our troops — those who have and still are sacrificing so much for the future welfare of this country — be fairly rewarded, properly equipped and led. Their welfare and futures should not fall victim to clever budgeting gimmicks like Congressional Sequestration. No priority should be more critical than immediately freeing our armed forces from the shackles and penalties of Congress’ political budgeting process.
Long before the Defense Budget gets to Congress, it is thoroughly massaged by the Pentagon’s civilian masters to reflect the political goals of the Administration. The generals and admirals can champion the cause of their individual services and service men and women only so far. At some point in the process they are told to sit down and shut up. Those who do, get to hold on to their jobs. Those who do not, are eased out of their jobs and summarily retired.
Since the President and Congress have already decided how and how much to arbitrarily slash military pay and benefits, and the Joint Chiefs have already been forced to agree to the reductions, submitting a military budget to the Congress is merely a formality. There is no way to adequately compensate our military troops and their families for the sacrifices the nation has called upon them to make these past ten years. That is why their pay raises and benefits should be generously granted by a grateful Congress on behalf of a grateful nation without reductions.
In short, our fighting men and women and their families deserve to be dealt with generously. They deserve to be liberated from the devastating effects of Congress’ and the President’s arbitrary and thoughtless Armed Forces budget reductions. Not only should military equipment be replaced and restored, but the morale of military families also needs to be restored. Military families have become the victims of Congress’ political power games, and it is not helpful for the senior generals and admirals to go mute instead of defending the needs of their troops and families.
Finding funds to offset sequestration and to properly equip, pay and reward our military is not as difficult as may at first be imagined. To fairly meet the nation’s national security budget requirements simply takes will power and determination, a resolve by Congress and the President to find somewhere in the defense budget ample funds for our troops, their families and for national defense. To do less is a congressional betrayal of our troops and their families.
Under the “chump change” category and during the rein of President Obama most departments and agencies have stockpiled millions of rounds of ammunition, more than could be used to quell a civil war here in the United States, or to fight another Afghanistan War. Those rounds could be recovered and shipped to military bases to be used for training and combat.
Again under chump change, all funds in all Departments and Agencies, including the Pentagon, discovered to be waste, fraud and abuse could be diverted toward meeting national defense needs. An across the board percentage reduction from the budgets of all Departments and Agencies of government could also be allocated to the Defense Department.
Let’s say the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and Agriculture each gave a percentage of their budgets to the Pentagon, and smaller Departments and Agencies gave a fraction of a percent. That addition to the Defense Budget could be made enough to more than properly equip, train and maintain our armed forces.
The point is that all Departments and Agencies will cease to exist if our armed forces fail in their mission of national security, of protecting America and keeping it safe. Therefore, Congress should always consider the national defense budget separately from non-defense spending, and not simply as a non-defense, zero sum budgetary excursion.
Jerry Curry is a retired Army Major General, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Carter administration; Acting Press Secretary to the Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration; and Administrator of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration in the Bush Sr. administration.