Rep. Turner for the defense

The Washington Post

By: Jennifer Rubin

March 17, 2015

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) is a key voice leading the charge against a misguided defense budget. Earlier this month, he rounded up 70 Republicans to write a letter to the speaker deploring the anticipated budget that would under-fund defense. “The protection of our national defense and of the security of the American people must come first. Every member who signed this letter was unwavering in their commitment to vote against a budget resolution that fails to fully fund national defense at or above the $561 billion identified by the President in his budget request.” Unfortunately, we got a budget today that barely differs from the president’s.

In an Armed Services Committee hearing there was this exchange with General Raymond T. Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the Army:

REP. MIKE TURNER:  . . . You testified last week that only 33% of our brigades are ready when our sustained readiness rate should be closer to 70%. This number is disturbing both because of its significance to our military and the effects of it. When a Brigade Combat Team or BCT – which is the essential building block of the Army’s combat power – isn’t ready and the Army isn’t ready to fight but they go to fight. General Odierno, could you describe to us doesn’t this mean that more people will get injured or killed? It isn’t just an issue of readiness, risk, capability, or mission? It’s that more people will get injured or killed? Is that correct?

GENERAL ODIERNO: That’s absolutely right Congressman. It means it will take us longer to do our mission, it will cost us in lives and it will cost us in injuries and it could potentially cost us in achieving the goals we are attempting to achieve as well.

REP. MIKE TURNER: So the translation we need is: we can lose, people will die, and people will be injured.

GENERAL ODIERNO: That is correct sir.

REP. MIKE TURNER: Now General, if we go to full sequestration for FY2016 and that’s an issue that’s beyond just what the budget is, your goal of taking our brigades to 70% of readiness, how do you accomplish that?

GENERAL ODIERNO: We will not. What we will do – as you mentioned with 33% ready now, that will go down with sequestration, probably to somewhere around 25%. We will have to focus all our resources on a small part of the force just to meet every day requirements that we have in the Army.  The rest of the force will go untrained and that means that if they are needed, they will not be able to do the job we expect them to do. And our sons and daughters will be asked to do things without the proper training or proper readiness of their equipment

REP. MIKE TURNER: Which again means that more people will be injured or killed?

GENERAL ODIERNO: That is correct sir. 

Leadership will pick off many votes for the budget from Turner’s letter, but many may still resist the entreaties to sign onto a dangerous budget that is coincidentally also politically foolish. As Mackenzie Eaglan explains, the most likely outcome will be this:

The defense appropriations bill that passes the House will match the legal spending caps for the core defense budget at $499 billion for 2016. . . . Congress will seek to add additional emergency supplemental funds – or overseas contingency operations (OCO) money – for defense above President Obama’s levels, but much of it will ultimately be stripped out during floor debate. . . . The defense spending bills that pass in both chambers will not become law. Most likely, the federal government will start the fiscal year operating under another continuing resolution (CR). . . All eyes will turn to the Budget Committee chairmen to craft a follow on to the Ryan-Murray Bipartisan Budget Act to stanch the bleeding and triage the patient (defense) while providing some fiscal certainty and relief for the military later this summer or early fall.

But this could have been done differently. “The House GOP leadership took the easy way out — politically and budgetary. This resolution will do little to draw support from policymakers with a deep understanding of the crisis in defense and will likely end up failing for not pleasing any bloc in the party, including defense hawks, fiscal hawks and appropriators. For the Pentagon, this means another long year of budget uncertainty with no foresight into how or when the budgetary process will end and at what spending levels. That hurts not only the military, but taxpayers as well since it creates inefficiency and drives up program and planning costs across the largest federal agency.”

Perhaps the House and then the Senate will reconsider this and at least put on the president’s desk responsible legislation that adequately funds the first priority of the federal government.