WASHINGTON - Military services have outlined a series of spending cuts that will reduce planned raises for military personnel, curtail aircraft maintenance, delay new equipment for soldiers and the movements of aircraft carriers around the globe, documents obtained by USA TODAY show.
These and other cuts will go into effect unless the White House and Congress reach a deal on long-term spending to avoid the process known as sequestration, which calls for $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. The cuts will start March 1 if no deal is reached.
The proposed cuts, according to Pentagon officials and military budget documents, include:
A proposed 1% pay raise for servicemembers in 2014 instead of the planned 1.7%, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
- Reductions in Air Force spending on aircraft maintenance by one-third, the elimination of support for popular military air shows and reduced spending on support for more than 30 weapons systems.
- Army cuts in funding for intelligence and surveillance aircraft and new soldier equipment.
- Navy cuts by more than half the number of flying hours for its warplanes on aircraft carriers in the Middle East. It would not send the USS Harry S Truman aircraft carrier task force scheduled to go to the Persian Gulf.
Little said the decision to keep the carrier group home "enables the U.S. Navy to maintain these ships to deploy on short notice in the event they are needed to respond to national security contingencies."
The military services face $46 billion in cuts in this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, if an agreement is not reached. Much of that is due to sequestration, while additional reductions will take place because 2013 spending for the military has not been approved. That means it continues to spend under guidelines set by the 2012 budget.
President Obama announced his plan Tuesday to avert the budget crisis that includes a package of spending cuts and increases in tax revenue. Obama met Wednesday at the White House with executives of major defense contractors.
A group of senior House and Senate Republicans released a proposal Wednesday to replace the cuts through the end of the fiscal year in September with an $85 billion alternative proposal to cut spending with a reduction in the federal workforce through attrition and a pay freeze for members of Congress. The bill would allow federal agencies to hire one person for every three who leave their employment.
Todd Harrison, a military budget expert at the non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the doom-and-gloom rhetoric from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill is "putting a spin" on the matter. Readiness will be affected if training is cut, but it's unclear, he said, how quickly skills erode.
For example, he said, delaying the deployment of the USS Harry S Truman doesn't mean the carrier will never sail again. When money becomes available, Harrison said, the Truman will sail. In case of emergency, Congress will find the money to allow the carrier to steam toward trouble, while planes would fly and soldiers would train.
"We'd just add to the debt," Harrison said.
There is renewed agreement that the spending cuts need to be replaced, but little consensus on how to get it done.
"If it's implemented, it'll cut every ship, aircraft, tank, truck program, research and development across the board," warned Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a leading advocate to replace the impending cuts.
"We got into this mess together, and we're going to have to get out together," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a co-sponsor of the legislation, noting that lawmakers in both parties supported the 2011 legislation that led to the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade after Congress failed to come up with a deficit reduction package on its own.
The GOP proposal does not include any tax revenue, unlike Obama's.
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said Congress must develop a plan to deal with the long-term deficit, including a balanced approach to cuts to defense and other discretionary programs, and the need to raise revenue, he said.
Such a solution is unlikely before March 1, Smith said, but will be more likely in a few months when the damage from the mandatory cuts becomes evident.
The president, supported by congressional Democrats, wants revenue to play a role in offsetting the impending cuts, but there is near unanimity among Republicans against any new taxes following the year-end "fiscal cliff" budget deal that raised tax rates on wealthy Americans. "The American people believe that the tax question has been settled," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, reiterating GOP opposition to new tax revenue.
Recent acceptance among lawmakers that the cuts would probably take effect March 1 has been replaced with new momentum to fix the problem.
"Last year, things weren't desperate. They are desperate this year," said Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Last year, we weren't talking about the president's own secretary of Defense saying that this is devastating. It's disarming America."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in an interview last week with USA TODAY that the military would be unable to handle threats outside the war in Afghanistan and a crisis in the Middle East if the cuts occur. The Pentagon would have to reduce the Army by 100,000 soldiers, Panetta said. It already plans to shed 100,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines under a plan to cut $487 billion over 10 years.
Tom Vanden Brook and Susan Davis, USA TODAY