If the bipartisan debt supercommittee is unable to reach a deal by Thanksgiving, across-the-board cuts to defense spending could lead to the reinstatement of a military draft, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Monday.
“We ... need to understand what it’s going to mean to keep an all-volunteer force,” Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) told Fox News Channel Monday. “Do we want to reinstitute the draft? Some of the cuts we’re talking about would take over 200,000 out of end strength from our military.”
John Noonan, spokesman for House Armed Services Committee Republicans, said that the 200,000 figure was derived from estimates provided by the committee’s majority on the effects of the $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts that would be enacted in January 2013 if the 12-member supercommittee does not reach a deal. Under last month’s debt-ceiling deal, half of the $1.2 trillion in cuts would come from defense spending.
“Sometimes, we forget that a volunteer military is very expensive,” Noonan said, noting that McKeon is among the strongest opponents of a conscript military. “No one is proposing resurrecting a conscript system. However, the cuts required under a sequestration scenario would force us to break faith with the troops -- destroying our ability to retain forces in sufficient numbers to meet the threats we face.”
In Monday’s Fox News interview, McKeon noted that $465 billion has already been cut from defense spending under August’s debt deal and that if the trigger is pulled on across-the-board cuts, “it’ll be over another $500 billion.”
“We understand that defense has to be on the table, just as everything else is,” he said. “Out of a budget as large as the defense industry has, there has to be some way to save some money, but we have saved a lot. To try to break the back of the recession on the backs of the military means who’s going to have our back the next time we’re attacked?”
He also expressed concern about the effect that the across-the-board cuts would have on military pensions and other benefits.
”Our troops that go outside the line over in Afghanistan every day should not be having to think about what their retirement’s going to be; what their pension’s going to be; are they going to be able to stay in the military; the problems that they’re having and the effect that this is having on their families,” McKeon said. “That is not fair, and I think we need to remember the Marine motto, ‘Semper Fidelis’ – ‘Always Faithful.’ What about the faithfulness that we have to the military, the promises that we’ve made to them?”
McKeon’s comments are the latest sign of concern from congressional Republicans about the effects of any potential defense cuts if the supercommittee is unable to reach a deal.
Asked about McKeon’s remarks as he exited the Capitol Monday evening, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), one of six Republicans on the bipartisan panel and a staunch defender of defense spending, declined to comment.
But at the joint committee’s second hearing Thursday, Kyl argued that the across-the-board defense cuts would lead to job losses.
“With defense (cuts), for example, you’ve got high unemployment of returning veterans to begin with,” Kyl said at last week’s hearing. “You have reduction in end strength. You’ve got more people potentially unemployed. You got people making radios and building ships and so on. And if those cuts, therefore, end up reducing the employment in those industries and the amount of money spent in those areas, obviously it could delay economic recovery.”