Defense Budget Hunger Games? Paul Ryan Says Thanks, but No Thanks.

The Wisconsin Republican would spare some of the programs currently on the chopping block, but doesn’t get into details of what he would cut.

PARRIS ISLAND, SC - JUNE 22: Female Marine Corps recruits pratice drill at the United States Marine Corps recruit depot June 22, 2004 in Parris Island, South Carolina. Marine Corps boot camp, with its combination of strict discipline and exhaustive physical training, is considered the most rigorous of the armed forces recruit training. Congress is currently considering bills that could increase the size of the Marine Corps and the Army to help meet US military demands in Iraq and Afghanistan.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
April 1, 2014, 6:39 a.m.

House Re­pub­lic­ans rolled out their al­tern­at­ive budget Tues­day with a key de­tail miss­ing: what spe­cif­ic pro­grams — if any — would be cut.

The budget, spear­headed by Rep. Paul Ry­an, sets dis­cre­tion­ary na­tion­al de­fense spend­ing at $521 bil­lion, which in­cludes non-Pentagon activ­it­ies re­lated to home­land se­cur­ity and the En­ergy De­part­ment.

But Ry­an’s budget largely by­passes the cent­ral ques­tion in Con­gress’s de­fense budget battle: which pro­grams — and mem­ber pet pro­jects — get in­cluded, and which get left be­hind in an era of fisc­al aus­ter­ity.

In­stead, his na­tion­al de­fense budget rolls back some of the con­tro­ver­sial pro­vi­sions in the Pentagon’s budget, in­clud­ing re­duc­tions in health care cov­er­age and a one-year pay freeze for top brass.

“Giv­en the ex­plos­ive growth in com­pens­a­tion costs, the pos­sib­il­it­ies for re­form must be ex­amined,” the Ry­an budget notes, point­ing to an on­go­ing mil­it­ary com­mis­sion — whose re­port won’t be done un­til Feb­ru­ary 2015 — as the vehicle to do it.

But Ry­ann who de­fen­ded a cut to mil­it­ary re­tire­ment in­cluded in his budget agree­ment with Sen. Patty Mur­ray, isn’t the only one hes­it­ant to start an­oth­er fight with vet­er­ans’ groups. Sen­at­ors are hop­ing to kick the can on com­pens­a­tion changes, even though Robert Hale, the De­fense De­part­ment’s comp­troller, warned it would cost an ad­di­tion­al tens of bil­lions of dol­lars over the next five years.

Ry­an’s budget also “con­tem­plates” not re­du­cing troop levels in the Army as far as the pres­id­ent’s budget and main­tain­ing an 11th Navy car­ri­er.

But with Ry­an’s total na­tion­al de­fense spend­ing, which in­cludes non-Pentagon items, still ap­prox­im­ately $20 bil­lion be­low the $542 bil­lion that Pentagon of­fi­cials ex­pec­ted to re­quest for fisc­al 2015, something has to give.

When it comes to de­fense cuts, Ry­an re­turns to gen­er­al sug­ges­tions: that the Pentagon needs to get its books in or­der so it can be audited, re­quires a re­boot of how it pur­chases pro­grams and hard­ware (something the Sen­ate and Pentagon are work­ing on), and should make fur­ther cuts to its ci­vil­ian work­force.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s 2015 budget re­quest keeps the Pentagon’s budget re­quest at $496 bil­lion by put­ting pro­grams and fund­ing long cher­ished by mem­bers on the line, in­clud­ing Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s push to keep the Air Force’s A-10.

But Ry­an, like Pres­id­ent Obama, is hop­ing to break the se­quester-level budget caps after fisc­al 2015, even though Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee mem­bers have sug­ges­ted — and at times said — that the se­quester is likely here to stay.

And it’s not the first time the Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an has skimped on cer­tain de­tails. Demo­crat­ic cri­ti­cism of the budget is prac­tic­ally an an­nu­al tra­di­tion in the House. Demo­crats note that Ry­an says his plan would rein in over­all spend­ing without spe­cify­ing how, and that his pro­pos­al off­sets boosts in Pentagon spend­ing by mak­ing deep cuts in so­cial pro­grams.

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