When President Obama unveils his fiscal 2016 budget next week, he plans to breach the Pentagon’s legal spending limits by $34 billion. That’s when the debate over whether to lift spending caps on defense spending in the face of mounting threats from ISIS and other terrorist groups will formally begin.
Obama will propose a total of $585 billion in defense spending in the fiscal year that begins next Oct. 1, including a base budget of about $534 billion for general operations and salaries and $50.9 billion more for the ongoing military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Defense One.
The Department of Defense budget proposal includes $5.3 billion to continue air strikes against ISIS terrorists in portions of Syria and Iraq and to train and equip so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels to wage a ground war against the powerful jihadist terrorists.
If approved by Congress, the proposal would exceed the spending cap or sequester mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 by $34 billion in fiscal 2016 and break future caps by a total of $150 billion over the coming five years. The last time the Pentagon had a budget above $585 billion was 2012, when defense spending topped $645 billion. The Defense Department’s base budget has never topped $530 billion.
Congress and the Obama administration agreed a year ago to put onerous automatic spending cuts on hold for two years to take pressure off of a host of defense and domestic programs at a time when the economy was beginning to improve and the deficit was shrinking.
Now, the threat of renewed across the board spending cuts has returned, just as the U.S. and its allies are struggling to respond to the growing threat of terrorism around the globe. Recent lethal terrorist attacks in France, Australia and even Canada have heightened the concerns of lawmakers, military officials and the White House about the readiness of U.S. forces to combat terrorist groups including ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula.
Prominent congressional defense hawks, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a potential Republican presidential candidate, are calling for a continued moratorium on the across the board spending cuts mandated by a 2011 budget law.
Several top retired military commanders warned in Senate testimony on Tuesday that Congress would risk military readiness during a new era of widespread conflict and terrorist activities unless it lifts the mandatory camps on defense spending.
On Wednesday, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, testified together about the negative effects of sequestration before McCain’s committee.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, said that only a third of Army brigades are at the desired level of readiness, adding that soldiers could pay the price for being unprepared with their lives, according to the Washington Times.
“At what point do we the institution lose our soldiers trust? The trust that we’ll provide them the right resources, the training and equipment to properly prepare them and train them to lead them into harm’s way,” he said.
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