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Senators Raise Concerns about Defense Cuts in Letter to Gates

10:15 AM, Mar 25, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Today, 14 U.S. Senators sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Gates raising concerns about cuts in the defense budget (see the full letter after the jump). Although Obama's baseline budget seems to reflect an increase from Bush's, the senators point out that with changes in supplemental funding taken into account, the fact is programs will be cut. In the March 9 issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, Tom Donnelly crunched the numbers:

In 2009, the Bush administration's baseline budget was $513 billion, and the plan was to spend $523 billion in 2010. The Obama administration announced this week that it would "boost" the 2010 figure to $533 billion. So the Obama budget is bigger than the Bush budget, right?

The reality, though, is something quite different. Here's where the question of wartime supplementals comes into the picture. The Bush administration's last supplemental requests were for $188 billion in 2008--at the height of the Iraq surge--and a $65 billion installment on the war costs of 2009. The Obama budget adds another $75 billion in war costs for 2009, for a yearly total of about $140 billion. What accounts for the whopping difference between the 2008 spending of $188 billion and the $140 billion to be spent in 2009? It's not, unfortunately, that the success of the Iraq surge or the drawdown now beginning in Iraq are saving much money. Indeed the immediate costs of a safe withdrawal are no different from those of staying on. And, with a second surge--really, a long-term ramping up--of forces in Afghanistan about to begin, the supplemental cost of those operations is going way up.

In 2011, Donnelly writes, Obama budgets for "wartime costs of just $50 billion. Based on the numbers, by 2011 Obama plans to be fighting the 'Long War' at less than one-third the cost of the effort of 2008."

To understand how irresponsible the Obama defense budget is, see the Washington Post's story today "GAO Calls Iraq Pullout A 'Massive,' Costly Effort":

The removal of about 140,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 will be a "massive and expensive effort" that is likely to increase rather than lower Iraq-related expenditures during the withdrawal and for several years after its completion, government investigators said in a report released yesterday.

So if costs will increase in Iraq during the withdrawal, which defense programs does Obama plan to cut? The senators write to Gates that Congress has not "been informed about which particular programs will be affected. This lack of information raises a number of important questions, with potentially troubling answers. ... It is unclear how the administration, if it intends to cut supplemental funding, expects to maintain our military forces in the field and enable them to conduct their missions safely and effectively."

What's more, the problem with the defense budget is that the Obama administration is, in effect, trying to undermine the ability of the Congress to do due diligence when it comes to the budget and defense by forcing a vote on the top line without knowing what's below it. Therefore, the senators request that the administration specify which expenditures will be moved from the supplemental to the baseline budget. They've also requested risk assessments by combatant commanders.

Kudos to the 14 Republican senators for understanding and taking seriously the security implications of the Obama budget. "Now is not the time to attempt to cash in a 'peace dividend,' while thousands of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are serving in harm's way, engaged in military operations in two major theaters of conflict overseas, with other very real threats on the horizon," they conclude.

It's hard to believe that more senators--especially in the Republican caucus--don't share those same concerns.

The full letter after the jump...

March 25, 2009

The Honorable Robert Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC  20301-1000

Dear Secretary Gates: