Republicans Promise To Cut Pentagon Waste If Sequestration Is Lifted

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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Republicans remain internally divided on the defense budget, and two camps are forming.

Deficit hawks have pointed to out-of-control levels of waste at the Pentagon as justification for widespread cuts. Others, like Sen. John McCain and Rep. Mac Thornberry, have proposed adding tens of billions to the defense budget to address growing threats, promising that they will aggressively slash waste at the Pentagon, once the prospect of sequestration is no longer looming.

The debate is tangled as a result of the House and Senate budget committees introducing completely different proposals. In the House, Republicans floated the idea of keeping spending caps on, while sliding an additional $40 billion dollars into the war budget. The war budget has no spending limits, but this move has widely been described as exploiting a technicality, which even McCain called a “gimmick.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tried the same technicality on the Senate side, adding to the resolution first proposed by Republican Sen. Michael B. Enzi. Both budgets now allocate between $617 and $619 billion dollars for defense, an amount which is $96 billion dollars above sequestration limits and $58 billion above base funding suggested by the White House. Leaders from all branches of the military have testified repeatedly that sequestration would be damaging to the military’s ability to defense American interests.

“This [sequestration] strategy of blindly cutting spending across-the-board hits good and bad programs alike, and does nothing to tackle waste at the Pentagon,” Julie Tarallo, deputy press secretary for McCain, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

And in a recent op-ed at the Wall Street Journal, McCain and Thornberry argued that sequestration is completely unwarranted, given tangible threats to national security and American interests from the Iranian nuclear weapons program, aggressive Chinese movements in the South China Sea and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Budget Control Act, which mandates $1 trillion worth of cuts over a 10-year period, is unacceptable, as far the two Republicans are concerned. It doesn’t actually target waste at the Pentagon, which is instead better “accomplished through vigorous oversight in Congress and at the Pentagon, not through blind, automatic spending cuts.”

During a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Monday, Thornberry emphasized that key reforms need to be made in the military, particularly in the Pentagon’s bureaucracy and in acquisitions. “The velocity of change is accelerating and the unexpected will spring out on us,” Thornberry stated to a Washington, D.C., audience. “We need to streamline the bureaucracy. The definitive edge our military has comes from two sources: our people and our technology. Our military has to be both strong and agile.” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has also mentioned acquisition reform as a priority during his tenure.

Thornberry is set to unveil a bill later this week to start moving proposed reforms forward. Apparently, he has over 1,000 suggested reforms ready to bring to bear, and he plans for his bill to be integrated into the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.

“We would remove some of the obstacles to top military talent to serve in acquisitions,” Thornberry added, explaining his reform proposals at CSIS. “We would also require training on the commercial market, including commercial market research to help close that gap between industry and government. We would require every program start out with an acquisition strategy in writing. We have to align our procurement process with market incentives.”

When asked about Thornberry’s role in cutting waste through the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, Claude Chafin, communications director at the House Armed Services Committee, told TheDCNF that “because the NDAA is such a collaborative process, cuts can’t really be tied down to a specific person, but as vice chairman of HASC at the time, Rep. Thornberry strongly supported cutting the mismanaged service contracts and foreign currency fund, which have had considerable accountability issues.”

The service contracts and foreign currency fund totaled approximately $1.24 billion dollars worth of savings.

Tarallo told TheDCNF that McCain is working closely with Thornberry on major acquisition form, as well as engaging in oversight on programs like the Ford-class aircraft carrier, the Littoral Combat Ship and the Joint Strike Fighter.

However, aside from the investigation of the Boeing tanker deal which led to a taxpayer savings of approximately $6.2 billion dollars, Tarallo did not point to any other specific examples where McCain tackled waste at the Pentagon. In a speech on Dec. 15, 2011, McCain stated that he is committed to fighting the military-industrial-congressional complex, but for now, he is dead set on fighting sequestration.

“As our military commanders have warned repeatedly that sequestration is putting American lives at risk, Senator McCain has refused to support a budget resolution that fails to provide immediate relief from sequestration,” Tarallo told TheDCNF.

The debates in Congress over the defense budget are only just beginning.

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