Entries in Defense (6)


Congress Brainstorms Options to Avert Defense and Poverty Cuts

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Back when Congress was trying to reach an agreement to raise the debt limit, leaders from both parties decided they’d only be able to work together with the threat of across-the-board spending cuts hanging over their heads.

So they passed a bill in 2011 that pledged just such across-the-board cuts starting next year, which would affect social spending and the Pentagon budget if Congress couldn’t find a way to work together to find a larger solution to Washington’s problems.

And now, after failing to reach that bigger solution, the drastic across-the-board cuts are looming.

Congress is trying to find a way to undo some of the spending cuts on Capitol Hill before they take effect.  They call it “sequestration” for shorthand, and the automatic budget cuts would drastically reduce social spending and lead to the smallest U.S. military since 1940.

But which priority should be saved?

The drastic automatic spending cuts that could kick in at the end of this year have launched a new congressional quarrel over national priorities and which budget should be saved -- the Pentagon or social services.

The law requires $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts equally divided between defense and domestic programs, over the next decade, with the first $109 billion in savings due to take effect on Jan. 2, 2013.

The House Budget committee began marking up a bill on Monday that would replace the sequestration cuts with alternative spending reductions.  Later this week, the House is expected to vote on the GOP’s proposal.

Republicans warn that the cuts would place an unfair burden on troops and military families, who would suffer the brunt of Washington’s failure to budget responsibly.

“In our view, we shouldn’t be taking more from hardworking Americans to fix Washington’s mistakes,” Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget committee, said on Capitol Hill Monday.  “Instead, we should be solving the problem with structural reforms to our entitlement programs to make them strong and sustainable.”

The vast majority of Democrats agree with most Republicans that Congress must avoid the devastating effects of the sequestration, but assert that the GOP goes about it the wrong way, prioritizing defense spending and protecting tax cuts for the wealthy, while undercutting the country’s social safety net and other programs intended to build the middle class.

Even if the House successfully passes its alternative package -- a vote is expected Thursday -- the Senate is unlikely to approve an identical version of the cuts, further complicating replacing the sequestration.

Congressional sources say they don’t expect the sequestration problem to be resolved until after the November election, during the lame duck session.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama: I’ve Proven Democrats Not ‘Weak on Defense’

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- President Obama says his administration’s foreign policy over the past three years effectively neutralizes longstanding Republican criticism that Democratic presidents are “weak on defense.”

“When it comes to foreign policy, I’m actually finding it very interesting,” Obama told a group of his wealthiest campaign donors at a $35,800-a-plate dinner at ABC Kitchen, the trendy Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant on the Lower East Side.

“The other side traditionally seems to feel that Democrats are somehow weak on defense, but they’ve had a little trouble making that argument this year because what we’ve shown is there’s no contradiction between being tough and strong and protecting the American people but also abiding by those values that make America great,” he said.

Obama added that “believing in diplomacy, believing in engagement, believing that it’s not a sign of weakness when we try to resolve issues peacefully, even as we’re prepared when we need to, for our own security, to act militarily” have been hallmarks of his approach since 2009.

Republicans, including the party’s leading presidential contenders, have consistently assailed Obama as a weak commander-in-chief and international leader.  In a major foreign policy speech late last year, GOP front-runner Mitt Romney called Obama “feckless” and claimed Obama did not want the U.S. to be “the strongest nation on earth.”

Obama indirectly rebuffed the criticism on several occasions during his fundraising swing through New York City Thursday night, hailing a successful end to the war in Iraq, preservation of a “sacrosanct commitment” to Israeli security and the killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

“Al Qaeda is weaker than it’s ever been, and bin Laden is no more,” Obama told a gathering of 100 donors at the Upper West Side home of Sarah and Victor Kovner, drawing resounding applause.

“There’s no contradiction between having a smart foreign policy, a foreign policy that is consistent with our values, but also being tough and looking out for America’s national security,” Obama said.

Obama’s foreign policy will be thrust back into the spotlight early next week when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House for discussions about the Middle East peace process and the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program.

“The sacrosanct commitment that we make to Israel’s security is not only a matter of providing them the military capabilities they need, not only providing the sort of qualitative military edge that they need in a very tough neighborhood, but also that we are a partner with them to try to bring about a peace in the region that can be lasting,” he said. “And that is a challenge.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


GOP Plans to Avoid Automatic Defense Cuts

US Department of Defense(WASHINGTON) -- Remember the failure of the debt-reduction supercommittee? Members of Congress do, too -- and they are already looking for ways to avoid the devastating, across-the-board spending cuts that will kick in early next year.

Five Republican senators Thursday announced a plan to replace the first year of automatic defense cuts, known as sequestration, because of the failure of the supercommittee to broker a deal late last year.

The “Down Payment to Protect National Security Act of 2012” plan would provide $127 billion in savings for this year through attrition, hiring two federal employees for every three that leave federal service and extending the current federal employee freeze, which includes members of Congress, for an additional year and a half.

As negotiated during the debt ceiling debate, the failure of the supercommittee to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in cuts last November is set to trigger cuts starting in January 2013 in defense and domestic spending.  This plan announced Thursday would replace the $110 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts for 2013 -- for just one year.

“I believe the cuts that would be required by sequestration aimed at the Department of Defense are a threat to our nation’s security and we are opposed to that draconian action,” Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., told reporters Thursday, “as is the secretary of defense and others.”

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said that the impacts of these automatic across-the-board sequestration cuts would be “devastating” for the department.

“[Panetta] either needs to be fired because he’s so off base or we need to listen to him and fix the problem,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“We still live in a very dangerous world and everyone agrees that this kind of sequestration cannot take place,” McCain said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Abortion Fight Heats Up in Defense Budget Debate

Jupiterimages/Comstock(WASHINGTON) -- Abortion rights supporters are hoping to capitalize on the ongoing defense budget debate to build momentum for a provision that would allow servicemembers who are victims of rape and incest to get an abortion at military hospitals.

Under current law, only servicemembers whose lives are endangered can get an abortion at military hospitals.  Victims of rape and incest aren't entitled to federal funds for abortion services, even though other beneficiaries of government health care, like prisoners and Medicaid recipients, are.

A number of Senate Democrats, led by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, will officially introduce the MARCH (Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health) Act on Thursday, following on the heels of a similar House bill that was announced last week.

The bills are likely to trigger another political fight on an issue that has become the battleground for conservatives in the current Congress.  Last month, an effort by Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., to interject a similar amendment into the 2012 Defense Authorization Act did not even make it past the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee.

The new standalone bills being introduced this month would allow rape and incest victims to receive an abortion under the military health system, and let women get abortions on military bases with private funds.

"This is really a question of fairness," said Vania Leveille, senior legislative council at the American Civil Liberties Union, which is leading the efforts along with a number of other abortion rights groups.

Citing the recent passage in the House of Representatives of the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" -- which bans all federal funding for abortions at federal facilities except in cases of rape, incest and a threat to the life of the victim -- proponents of the MARCH Act argue that military women are being unfairly marginalized.

"If other populations who rely on the government for their health care -- like federal employees, like women on Medicaid, like women in prison... [have] the option of terminating the pregnancy" in cases of rape and incest, then "why not military women, and why are military women treated as second class citizens? Why are they treated differently than the civilian women?" Leveille said. "I don't see how that's excusable."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Defense Secretary Robert Gates: Why I'm Ready to Retire

ABC News(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- After five years of service and more than 12,000 casualties among U.S. troops in two wars, outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told ABC News' Diane Sawyer he believes he has become too cautious for the job.

He became emotional as he said, "I swore when I took the job I would never allow any of these kids to become a statistic for me." He admitted to Sawyer that he no longer has a young man's steel for wars that seem to never end.

He writes a personal note to the family of every soldier who dies under his command. Gates knows exactly how many soldiers he has lost over his tenure, "as of yesterday, 1,255 [killed], and about 11,000 wounded," he told Sawyer.

"I go to the hospitals, I go to Arlington. I see their families, so I feel the human cost. And that's why I told somebody the other day maybe it is time for me to leave because these things have begun to weigh on me in a way that maybe I'm not as useful as I used to be."

When asked if he believed he had become too cautious for the job, he replied, "yeah." It's time, he added, to step down.

Gates has served eight presidents since beginning his career with the CIA in 1966 as a fresh-faced 23-year-old.

"Over years, I would still pinch myself. I came from a family of modest means. My brother and I are the first college graduates in our family's history," Gates told Diane Sawyer.

Secretary Gates has received many awards over his career, including the National Security Medal, the Presidential Citizens Medal, the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal - twice, and has three times received CIA's highest award, the Distinguished Intelligence Medal.

Gates is also the only Secretary of Defense in U.S. history to remain in office during the transition from one president to another, from President George W. Bush's tenure into the term of President Barack Obama.

During his time as secretary, Gates has lifted the ban on women serving on submarines, overseen the surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan and pushed to trim the Pentagon's massive budget.

CIA Director Leon Panetta will take over the post of secretary of defense after Gates leaves the position.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rep.-Elect Allen West: ‘You Have to’ Cut Defense; New Strategy Needed for Afghanistan

Photo Couresty - AllenWestforCongress dot com(WASHINGTON) -- The new class of GOP House freshmen is coming to Washington vowing to rethink government spending even in areas that Republicans have long held sacred -- and with an eye toward big changes on the national security front.

On Tuesday, Rep.-elect Allen West, R-Fla., a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, told ABC News that “you have to” subject Pentagon spending to cuts if the nation plans to seriously grapple with the budget deficit.

He also called for a new strategy in Afghanistan that focuses less on “nation-building” and more on confronting new threats.

On Afghanistan, West said, “We have to look at how we can be successful on the ground and these combat theaters of operation. The 21st-century battlefield is a totally different battlefield. We have to get away from occupation, nation-building style warfare. I think that our national security strategy should focus on denying the enemy sanctuary. Cyber warfare is going to become a huge part of this, the information operations aspect of it. And those are the type of things we have to look at.”

Based on his time as a military adviser in Afghanistan, West said, “I think we've lost focus on the enemy, and we've gotten too far focused on nation-building. And that is one of the critical things I want to look at.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio