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Gates: Congress Must Address ‘Crisis on My Doorstep’

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

OTTAWA, Canada, Jan. 27, 2011 – The failure of Congress so far to pass the fiscal 2011 defense appropriations bill -- which creates the possibility of funding the department under a year-long continuing resolution instead -- is “the crisis on my doorstep,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview yesterday.

Failure to pass the funding legislation will represent a $23 billion cut in the defense budget in the current fiscal year, the secretary noted.

“It’s the worst of all possible kinds of reductions, in significant measure because it comes halfway through the fiscal year,” Gates told reporters traveling with him to a meeting with Canadian officials here.

The budget request was for $549 billion, and the continuing resolution would come in at $526 billion.

War funding will not be affected, however. The Defense Department will receive $159 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this fiscal year, a figure that will drop to $120 billion in fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1.

The department likely would use operations and maintenance accounts to compensate for the difference between the budget legislation funding and that provided by a continuing resolution, through stretching out programs and making cuts in training and readiness, Gates said.

“Frankly that’s how you hollow out a military, even in wartime,” the secretary added. “It means fewer flying hours, fewer steaming days, cuts in training for home-stationed ground forces, cuts in maintenance, and so on.”

The current continuing resolution runs out March 4. Gates said that if lawmakers don’t pass the appropriations bill before that date, “this new Congress would be responsible for a cut that’s nearly twice the size of our fiscal ’12 proposal, and much, much more damaging.”

Forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan probably will be protected from the more draconian cuts, but forces reconstituting or on watch in other areas of the world will be affected, the secretary said.

“Depending on how it comes out, as I say, it could have an impact on training across the entire force, on maintenance, on facilities maintenance,” he added.

Gates pledged to do all he can to ensure military families and wounded service members don’t bear any of the brunt.

“I will do everything in my power to protect all the money associated with family programs, and I mean that,” the secretary said. “I will protect the money associated with family programs and with wounded warriors, and so on.”

Gates questioned the seriousness of members of Congress who are up in arms about cuts to defense in fiscal 2012, but are ignoring the effect the continuing resolution will have on the services.

“In short, talk about not cutting defense in [fiscal 2012], as far as I'm concerned, is simply rhetoric without action on the [fiscal 2011] defense budget that’s already in front of the Congress,” he said.

Gates also discussed some of the congressional concerns over his proposed $78 billion cut in the projected defense budget over the next five years.

The impact on the services is very modest, he said. Of the $78 billion, $54 billion in savings come from reductions in defense agencies and other cuts. About $14 billion of the cut comes from changes in assumptions, Gates explained. For example, he said, inflation is lower than anticipated and pay raises will be smaller than the ones that were figured into budget projections.

“So $68 billion of the $78 billion don’t touch the services, really, at all,” he said. “An additional $4 billion comes from restructuring the joint strike fighter program, and I would argue that’s actually to the advantage of the services. And $6 billion is from the force reductions in ’15 and ’16.”

The bottom line, Gates said, is that “only about $10 billion come out of anything having to do with the troops or investment funds or capabilities.”

The fiscal 2011 budget is getting mixed into issues that range far beyond the Defense Department, Gates said, adding that he is addressing his responsibilities to the department.

“My view is these issues are not optional,” he said. “This has to do with the security of the country.”

The training cuts a continuing resolution would necessitate would work against addressing readiness concerns the service chiefs and some lawmakers have expressed, the secretary noted.

“The irony in this would be one of the service chiefs’ concerns and one of the Congress’s concerns, the Armed Services Committees’ concerns, have been the lack of readiness for the full range of combat,” Gates said. “We are just now beginning to get the kind of dwell time [at home stations between deployments] that would allow us to carry out that kind of training.

“And it would be incredibly ironic,” he continued, “if now that we are able to do that kind of training, we are unable to do so for the rest of [fiscal 2011] because we don't have the money, because we end up on this continuing resolution.”

 

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