9:37 a.m. we begin, with Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) introducing sequestration as a threat to our national security: "Our military leaders have been warning us of its consequences," he said, citing global security, concerns among our allies about our readiness and an underfunded and furloughed defense sector.
Sequestration was designed to be unpopular with both Democrats and Republicans. That seemed to hold true at the beginning of the hearing as Democratic Sen. Carl Levin and Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe agreed in their opening statements that the mandatory defense cuts were harming the military. Levin called it "arbitrary and irrational," while Inhofe said the U.S. is "at a point where our allies don't trust us and our enemies don't fear us."
In his opening statement, Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno warned that sequestration would hurt the Army's readiness and modernization over the next decade. He cited the years just before World War I, when American military planners thought they did not need a large army, as evidence of the shortsightedness of this approach, warning that there are a number of threats to the U.S. around the world right now. "I do not consider myself an alarmist," he said. " I consider myself a realist."
Marine Corps Commandant James F. Amos used his opening statement to speak out against recent furloughs of civilian Defense department employees, calling it a "grave disservice" to them. "Our civilian Marines are a vital part of our team. They are the technicians, the experts, the teachers, the clerks in our commissaries and our exchanges. They are our corporate memory," he said. "They deserve better quite frankly."
Questioning begins with Sen. Carl Levin asking the chiefs how their departments are handling past sequestration cuts, let alone potentially future cuts if Congress doesn’t reach a budget deal in January. Their answers were grim:
Gen. Odierno said the Army cut money for training that will certainly come back to haunt them. “You can’t ever recapture that,” he said. Furloughing employees also cut into morale: “They’re beginning to lose faith in their government.”
Adm. Greenert said the Navy has stopped building some key combat ships.
Gen. Amos of the Marines said the organization simply has no more money, noting that they have already slimmed forces, taken reservists off active duty and frozen civilian hiring: “There’s really no more fat on our bones,” he said.
Gen. Welsh of the Air Force echoed the other chief’s concerns.
Gen. Mark Welsh commented on the low morale sequestration is causing among members of the Air Force.
He said he recently visited a base where young members were bored because they spent their days sitting in an office instead of flying, and they told Welsh they plan to find other jobs that allow them to fly at the end of their enlistment.
“I haven’t heard anybody in our military say they were bored in quite some time. So that got my attention,” Welsh said.
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona took a different tack, arguing that the military has been spending too much. He began by noting a cost overrun on the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford and overruns on the F-35 fighter jet. "You should know, admiral, when we had a $2 billion cost overrun on a single ship and now you're asking for $500 million more," he told Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert. He also noted that the military now has 1.5 million civilian contractors, more than the 1.3 million uniformed personnel. "They do great jobs, but they don't fight," he said, arguing that civilian contractors would have to be cut back.
Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado, said he’s frustrated that the military’s leaders have to spend time testifying about indiscriminate budget cuts Congress manifested.
“We in the Congress created this monster,” he said.
Udall noted Gen. Mark Welsh’s comment that sequestration is actually going to cost the Air Force more money in the long run and asked Welsh how he would create a dream budget that saves money. Udall said he’s working with Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, on developing a budget that allows for agencies to implement with flexibility.
Welsh replied: “Sequestration is a horrible business model.”
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia, said in the midst of sequestration he thinks Congress is mandating the branches of military to spend money on toys it doesn’t need. (This often happens when a member of Congress pushes for a lucrative production deal with the military that benefits his or her district). Chambliss listed example after example, including a new fleet of tanks that Army Gen. Raymond Odierno has said he doesn’t want.
Odierno confirmed that’s correct: “We have the most modernized tank fleet we’ve ever had. It is in great shape … and yet we’re purchasing more tanks we don’t need.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, touches on the impacts of sequestration on the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in her state. She asked Adm. Jonathan Greenert of the Navy about the long term impacts of sequestration, who replied that the nuclear shipyard is “premiere” and “one of the most stable” but that frustrated civilian and military employees there tend to leave their jobs because of furloughs.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire, brings up Afghanistan and asks for the latest.
A very optimistic Gen. Raymond Odierno of the Army said he thinks “we’re making incredible progress” there and that as long as America keeps the right amount of troops in the country to help train and advise Afghan security forces, the country will eventually stand on its own.
Though he gave no timetable for when that might be.
“We have come too far, we have invested too much to back away from that now because we are close on the cusp, I think, of being successful,” he said.
The conversation sticks to Afghanistan as senators question the chiefs on a timetable for how long we will stay in the country.
Gen. Ray Odierno said 90 percent of the country’s security forces are lead by Afghans and that those forces are doing “better than we expected, faster than we expected.”
Gen. James Amos of the Marine Corps chimes in and said by December 2014 “I’m confident we will have set the conditions of the greatest opportunity for Afghans to take charge of their lives. I’m feeling very good about it.”
Gen. Raymond Odierno of the Army on what keeps him up at night related to the sequester: “If something happens and we’re required to send soldiers, they might not be prepared in the way Americans might expect them to be prepared.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, said he urges supporters of the military to pressure members of a congressional budget committee to create a long-term budget in the next month that replaces sequestration.
He also took a swipe at Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, for Lee’s attack that President Barack Obama is focusing more on Obamacare and gun rights than the effects of sequester on the military. “I found those questions quite odd,” Kaine said, noting the president submitted a budget to Congress that Congress then didn’t pass.
An early happy birthday to Gen. James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, via Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal then says that sequester is “a word, a term that has little or no meaning to 99.9 percent of the American people.” If you’re reading this blog, consider yourself part of the .01 percent.
And with that, the hearing is over. To recap, there isn't much news that came out of it. The chiefs of our military repeated that the sequester is hurting their ability to protect America, and lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee repeated that they want to end the sequester and put in place a real budget. Thanks for watching!