WASHINGTON — Brushing aside congressional opposition, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the nation's top military leader insisted on Tuesday that President Barack Obama's trimmer, $614 billion defense budget will ensure the U.S. advantage worldwide with acceptable risks to the force and missions.
Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended the blueprint that would slash the size of the Army and Marine Corps, cut back on shipbuilding, and delay the purchase of some fighter jets and weapons systems. Overall, the budget for 2013 would provide $525.4 billion in base spending and another $88.5 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The total is nearly $32 billion less than this year's budget, a reflection of the drawdown in the two conflicts, a decade since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the clamor to cut the nation's deficit.
Dempsey acknowledged the inherent risks of a smaller budget, but told the Senate Armed Services Committee, "we're very confident, because we've worked this collaboratively, that we can mitigate risks by adapting lessons from the last 10 years of war, new emerging capabilities."
Panetta said the leadership of the Defense Department — military and civilian — was unified behind a revised strategy to shift the focus from the long wars to future challenges in Asia, the Mideast and cyberspace and the proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
The show of unity from the political appointee and the senior officer was meant to deflect criticism from some in Congress, especially Republicans, that a Democratic commander in chief was hollowing out the force.
Still, Republicans and Democrats on the panel challenged the administration's call for another round of domestic base closures and raised parochial concerns about the fate of labs, ships and submarines that mean thousands of jobs back home.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the panel, said the Pentagon should look at shutting bases in Europe and overseas before targeting installations in the United States.
The panel's top Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said the proposed budget "continues the administration's habit of putting short-term political considerations over our long-term national security interests."
Nuclear cuts weighed
The Obama administration is weighing options for cuts to the U.S. nuclear force, including a reduction of up to 80 percent in the number of deployed weapons, the Associated Press reported Tuesday, citing an unnamed former government official and an unnamed congressional staffer. The potential cuts would be from a treaty limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads.