Wednesday’s House Republican budget proposal doesn’t help the future look any brighter. It all but ignored last year’s bipartisan agreement in the Budget Control Act, which includes defense cuts of $487 billion over the next 10 years. Instead, the GOP budget restores about $200 billion of that money, increasing President Obama’s fiscal 2013 request by $30 billion to $554 billion.
What makes the situation grim is that legislators from both parties are balking at the reductions in Obama’s fiscal 2013 Defense Department request that are part of the $487 billion, 10-year plan. If Congress can’t take the first step in these defense cuts, how will it ever hit the additional $1.2 trillion of overall reductions before sequestration on Jan. 2?
One proposed fiscal 2013 cut that has drawn the most criticism on Capitol Hill and in the country at large is the Air Force reduction for the Air National Guard. As part of its plan to save $8.7 billion over 10 years, the Air Force proposed cutting 5,500 Air National Guardsmen, with the first 5,100 in fiscal 2013. In addition, 280 Air National Guard aircraft are to be eliminated over the next five years, more than 100 of them in fiscal 2013. Some of the remaining planes would be shifted among air bases.
Under the plan, reductions are to involve Air Guard facilities in 19 states, 12 of which will lose more than 100 personnel. If ever a reduction was expected to cause an uproar in Congress and among the states in an election year, this was it.
The National Governors Association has taken a strong stand against it, as has the Senate National Guard Caucus, headed by Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). Both are on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Graham is on the Armed Services Committee. Days after the Air Guard reductions were announced, Leahy called them “dangerously premature.”
Perhaps more important for the future of the plan were the Air Guard reductions focused on Michigan, the home state of Sen. Carl Levin (D), chairman of the Armed Services panel. The biggest single cut would be to the Air National Guard unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, just north of Detroit. The base is scheduled to lose up to 550 military personnel, about one-third of those stationed there. The main reason: The Air Force is removing all 24 A-10 Thunderbolt II air-to-ground, close air support aircraft at the base. Also, the base’s eight KC-135 refueling tankers are to be reduced to four.