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US Department Of Defense In Cash Crunch

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace.
by Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Aug 03, 2006
The Senate has completed work on the 2007 defense appropriations bill, putting $404 billion into the Pentagon budget-- $9 billion less than the White House asked for -- and $63 billion into a bridge fund to cover the costs of the wars until the Bush administration asks for a supplemental, expected next February.

That bridge fund will drive the cost of the wars and Operation Noble Eagle - the homeland defense military mission - to nearly $500 billion since 2001, according to estimates by three congressional research offices.

And the cost does not end there. The Marine Corps has told Congress it needs at least $12 billion to reset its forces to full readiness. The Army needs $17 billion. The National Guard needs $23 billion. And those costs will continue to mount as the wars grind on.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested Wednesday that the Pentagon is not prepared to tighten its belt to help cover the bills. Don't look to the Defense Department to rein in the growing national budget deficit.

"The reality is, when you're in a war -- and we are in a war -- it costs money," Rumsfeld told Pentagon reporters Wednesday. "And equipment gets used at a much different rate. Equipment gets destroyed and it has to be replaced. And you need to reset the force properly and you need to reset it in a way that this country will be capable of doing what is necessary to defend our country."

Rumsfeld asserts defense spending - while as high as the height of the Reagan administration in real terms - is a relatively low percentage of gross domestic product -- a little under 4 percent, and the U.S. military's operations underpin stability in the world.

"It is certainly an investment that enables the opportunity and the economic activity and the activity around the world to continue. We are a stakeholder in the world global economy and the global system, and we are investing to see that that system is able to function and to resist the pressures from violent extremists that are determined to re-establish a caliphate in this world of ours and to deny free people the right to be free and the right to do what they want and say what they want and go where they want."

Behind the scenes, military officials, particularly those in the Army and the Marine Corps, say they are feeling the pinch and are still not getting everything they need to restore their ground forces. Even with generous war supplementals, there's just not enough in the budget to fund regular modernization and traditional operations as well as the war, they say. They point to big ticket items like the Air Force's new fighter jets, the missile defense program and aircraft carriers as possible bill payers.

"How about some big Air Force or Navy programs, unless Osama's building battleships and intercontinental bombers?" quipped one senior officer.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace said budget tradeoffs are occurring daily.

"We're literally today, as of about two hours ago, meeting, and we'll meet again tomorrow to discuss where are we, what are the potential deficits, how might we fill those deficits, what things are there that we are doing that we might be able to stop doing," he said.

Rumsfeld's critics say these small tradeoffs can't work in the long-term. They argue there are simply too many big ticket weapon systems designed for a threat that no longer exists -- a peer competitor -- and that are draining funds and research efforts away from the equipment needed to fight extremists in asymmetric warfare.

Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan and now associated with the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, outlined a new spending plan this year that he says would save the Pentagon $60 billion while not diminishing the ability to fight extremists.

Korb recommends cutting the nuclear arsenal back to 1,000 warheads, saving $14 billion; reducing spending on the national missile defense system just to research and development, saving $8 billion; cutting the F-22 fighter and the Virginia Class submarine to save $28 billion; cutting two fighter wings from the Air Force and one carrier battle group, saving $5 billion, and eliminating earmarks and waste at the Pentagon, saving $5 billion.

The White House is in no mood to discuss cuts: It threatened to veto the 2007 appropriations bill if it comes to President George W. Bush's desk more than $ billion under what the Pentagon asked for.

Source: United Press International

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Tokyo (AFP) Aug 01, 2006
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