POLITICS: PennAve

Senate Republicans vow to block Chuck Hagel's military cuts

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,National Security,PennAve,Defense Spending,Budgets and Deficits,Chuck Hagel

Republican lawmakers say they intend to use their legislative powers to try to block Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's plan to significantly shrink the size and power of the military.

“It's dead on arrival,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told the Washington Examiner after a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans on Tuesday.

Hagel on Monday gave some details of the Defense Department's 2015 budget proposal that President Obama will deliver to Congress on March 6, and many in the GOP said they are opposed to what they have heard.

Hagel unveiled plans for a much leaner military, including a reduction in the size of the army to about 445,000 soldiers, down from today’s force of 522,000. The proposal would also shrink the Marines and the National Guard, and it would retire the U-2 spy plane and the fleet of A-10 Warthog jets. The proposal also reduces the Navy fleet.

Hagel promoted the plan as one that will produce a smaller and more agile military that is better able to meet the needs of modern global threats and do it less expensively.

“This is a budget with significant restraints,” Hagel told military personnel at a town hall-style meeting Tuesday at Fort Eustis, Va.

But the GOP believes Hagel’s proposal projects U.S. military weakness to other countries, and in particular to China, North Korea, Iran and Russia.

“The army at the level envisioned is completely inadequate to meet the threats we are faced with,” Graham said. ”The question is, how do you pay for it?”

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said he believes Hagel's proposal is part of a plan by Obama to weaken the military and that the GOP will work to stop it.

“Absolutely there will be pushback,” he said.

Congress has set Pentagon spending levels at about $500 billion in 2015. But lawmakers, through the process of authorizing and appropriating, will have the final say over how much money to give the military in 2015 as well as how it should be spent.

“Congress can specify that no money be spent implementing this plan,” Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., told the Examiner.

Boozman said lawmakers might also propose legislation specifically blocking Hagel from making the cuts.

Graham added, "We can authorize Army spending at a certain level and appropriate to it."

Much of what happens to Hagel's plan in the Senate will depend on Democrats, who are in the majority.

So far, Democratic leaders have not committed to backing Hagel’s proposal but they also are not criticizing it yet.

The plan includes a new round of military base closures, which are sure to invite widespread bipartisan opposition as lawmakers work to protect installations in their districts from being shuttered.

“Whether we agree with every recommendation, that is yet to be seen,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. told the Examiner. “But Secretary Hagel has put forward an effort to show how we can have a strong defense, a modern defense, and be looking at it differently and more cost effectively.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., whose state is home to Creech and Nellis Air Force Bases, as well as Naval Air Station Fallon, was noncommittal.

“My response is that he's running the Pentagon, I'm running the Senate, and he'll make his decision in conjunction with the president, and we will get their recommendations,” Reid said Tuesday. “We'll weigh it when it gets here."

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