Mullen Says Pay, Benefit Cuts ‘On the Table’

Christian Lowe – Military.com June 3, 2011

The Pentagon’s top officer said Thursday that service members will likely see cuts in pay and benefits as the military plumbs its budget for nearly half a trillion dollars in savings over the next 12 years.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen warned against taking the “relatively easy” choice of cutting hardware while maintaining the increasing costs of paying and providing ongoing health care to troops and retirees.

“Two of the big places the money is, is in pay and benefits,” Mullen told defense reporters at a June 2 breakfast meeting in Washington. “And so when I say all things are on the table, all things are on the table.”

In May, President Obama proposed sweeping budget cuts totaling $400 billion over the next 12 years — a fiscal hit experts say will largely come from the DoD. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said health care costs are “eating the Department of Defense alive” — with nearly 10 percent of the budget going to health benefits for active and retired servicemembers.

Let your legislator know how you feel about potential pay and benefits cuts as the military looks to trim its budget.

“Sustaining … the weapons and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who use them is increasingly difficult given the massive growth of other components of the defense budget, the ‘tail’ if you will — operations, maintenance, pay and benefits, and other forms of overhead,” Gates said in a May 24 speech. “America’s defense enterprise has consumed ever higher level of resources as a matter of routine just to maintain, staff and administer itself.”

Mullen went further, saying savings should be found in pay and benefits

“We need to avoid just making the relatively easy decision [to] just cash in force structure,” Mullen said. “We have to go through everything else — and ‘force structure’ are platforms and people — before we get to that point, because that’s why we’re here.”

He added that these cuts will likely need to be made in the next few years in order to “start to generate cash in the out years.”

The U.S. doesn’t face the same world it saw after the Vietnam War, Mullen argued, when Congress and the Pentagon slashed defense by nearly 40 percent. The threats to U.S. security are real and growing, so gutting aircraft and ship programs would undercut American defense, he said.

“I’m not satisfied with the idea that ‘let’s just be the best counterinsurgency force we can be in the future,’ and that’s it,” he said. “We still have high-end warfighting requirements that we’re going to have to resource, and those are important programs.”

Mullen, who’s due to leave his post this fall, said the Pentagon is still working out the options on where to find the $400 billion in savings. And while he wasn’t sure where the White House would come down on the issue, he was firm in his belief that preserving future hardware is a top priority for the DoD.

“We’re at the point where … we have to present ‘here are options to execute this,’ and those are then decisions that the president has to make,” Mullen explained. “So we haven’t gotten to the specifics of [whether] the White House supports X, Y and Z.”

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