President Obama recently agreed to temporarily expand the U.S. Army by 22,000 soldiers. That should ease the strain on many who are enduring their third and fourth tours overseas. The problem is that adding 15,000 soldiers costs about $1 billion per year, so this expansion will cost about $1.5 billion.
To raise the funds, Obama asked lawmakers to redirect money budgeted for equipment, including trucks and other vehicles, in the current war supplemental spending bill. But why hire more people if we’re not going to give them the tools they need to fight and win?
The reality is that the military’s budget is too small. That same new enlisted soldier also needs superior equipment and force protection once he or she gets to the battlefield.
The irony is that Obama says money can be found now, but his administration didn’t think so a month ago, during the Senate’s debate over funding for additional F-22 aircraft. Members who supported purchasing more planes were vilified by some, because it was said that funding this fifth-generation fighter would mean reducing spending on immediate needs. In reality, the two-tenths of 1 percent of the defense budget that was slated for additional F-22s (or $1.75 billion) would have come from funds the Government Accountability Office assumed would never be spent on personnel or operations anyway. Congress could have built the planes and found savings elsewhere – like the recently passed acquisition-reform legislation, for example.
It’s terrible policy to scrimp on acquisition in order to pay people. As National Journal’s CongressDaily reported on Friday, Rep. John Murtha (D., Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said a White House reprogramming request of this magnitude is simply “unacceptable.” He’s right. Defense officials shouldn’t be able to “find that kind of money. If you do find that kind of money, then they sent up a bad budget.”
Providing for the common defense of Americans — including the equipment our warriors need — isn’t a one-time job for policymakers. Instead of discussing what the military can do without, sacrifices often paid for with life and limb, the real debate should focus on how best to pay America’s military and ensure that new enlistees retain the military superiority possessed by today’s forces. Robust investment in next-generation systems is needed now so that the troops who sign up in 10 years can also reap the benefits of American military primacy.
President Obama said the funding to pay for additional troops could come from “lower-priority” requirements that are “no longer needed at the current time.” His letter says that the Pentagon’s “latest assessment is that existing resources . . . are sufficient to satisfy the immediate need.”
Even some of his supporters wonder. After voting on the F-22, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said, “I just hope that someday we won’t regret this decision.”
The military deserves more than enough to barely get by. Congress will regret any decision to continue cutting equipment at the expense of people.
— Mackenzie Eaglen is the Heritage Foundation’s Research Fellow for National Security Studies.