Murtha: Defense Spending Under 'Severe Pressure'

John Murtha warns that defense cuts are coming:

Faced with immense pressure to trim its budget, the Pentagon should cut enlistment bonuses to military personnel, end its reliance on emergency supplemental spending and get serious about reforming its acquisition processes, a top congressional appropriator said Wednesday.

“What I’m saying is, there’s going to be less defense spending,” House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., said in a speech at the Center for American Progress on defense priorities.”

I’m not going to predict how much of a change we’ll see in the coming years, but I do know that defense spending is going to be under severe pressure.”

All four armed services and all six reserve components met or exceeded their recruiting goals for November, the Pentagon announced Wednesday. Military officials have noted that rising unemployment during the recession has helped the services attract recruits.

Murtha said the Army and Marine Corps spent about $2 billion on enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses since 2007 — incentives lawmakers and service officials deemed necessary to help meet recruiting and retention goals.

But Murtha said bonuses were one area that could produce savings as forces are drawn down in Iraq. “If we draw down, we ought to be able to get rid of the bonuses,” he said.”

The other thing is we have to buy a quantity [of weapons or weapons platforms] that gives us stability in industry so they can get the price down,” Murtha added. “We’ve got to figure out a way to fix the acquisition process so that we do it the right way the first time.”

The increased costs of major acquisition programs has plagued the Pentagon for years, Steven Kosiak, a senior defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said.”

There are really no signs that it’s getting any better,” he said. “I would totally agree that is absolutely a critical area for the new administration to get a grip on.”

But he said the military could find savings by reforming its healthcare system, addressing military compensation, and reducing operations and maintenance costs.

The Bush administration has drafted a $581 billion defense budget request for fiscal 2010 and plans to send Congress an additional $80 billion request for fiscal 2009 emergency supplemental spending next month, mainly to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., a retired vice admiral who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. He appeared with Murtha at the center.

“The supplementals have got to go,” Murtha said. “We cannot have a sensible budget, a sensible appropriations, if we don’t get rid of the supplementals.”

Murtha also assailed a Bush administration plan to dedicate 20,000 troops to respond to homeland security missions inside the United States.”What the hell does that mean?” he charged. “I don’t have a clue what that means. We’re the guys that fund it; I ought to know what they have in mind.”

I’m not sure to what Murtha is referring when he speaks of a Bush administration plan to establish a 20,000-troop domestic security force. In any case, he ought to look at the calendar: George Bush won’t have the chance to work on this priority. Rather, Barack Obama will ask Murtha and his colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to fund a Civilian National Security Force, that’s ‘just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded’ as the U.S. military. If Murtha was frustrated at the lack of details on President Bush’s proposal, just wait until he’s asked to fund Obama’s.

Beyond that, Murtha’s comments ought to prompt real concern. Notwithstanding Haditha, redeployment to Okinawa, and the other problems that conservatives have with Murtha, he is what passes as a ‘Defense Hawk’ in the Democratic party. From his perch as Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, he is his party’s most forceful advocate for more defense spending. If he’s conceding deep cuts before the debate starts, get ready for defense spending to be shaved to the bone.

That’s also the clear implication of his calls for ending emergency supplemental appropriations for defense. The primary motivation for funding the War on Terror and other defense priorities through ’emergency’ supplementals is that these appropriations fall outside the normal budgetary rules. Under President Bush, a lot of defense spending did not count against annual budgetary caps, so Congress was far more willing to spend what was required to fight the wars. If defense spending is brought completely back within the discretionary caps, there will be pressure to cut literally hundreds of billions. That Murtha is not only accepting the idea, but leading the charge, likely signals that House Democrats are ready to slash spending on national defense dramatically.