The Pentagon will do its part to help cut the US budget deficit but the military cannot be seen as the “billpayer for everyone,” top officer Admiral Mike Mullen said Thursday.
Speaking to an audience of business executives, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said defense spending was not fueling the country’s deficit problem and that drastic reductions in the Pentagon’s budget could weaken the US military.
“Yes, we need to do our part, but we should not be the billpayer for everyone else,” Mullen said.
Military spending has roughly doubled in the past decade but “still amounts to a small fraction of the deficit in the future.”
The Pentagon’s proposed budget for 2012 comes to about $671 billion, including about $118 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We must accept some cuts in pay and benefits, affecting veterans and some cuts in new capabilities, affecting industry,” Mullen said in a speech.
During a question and answer session, Mullen added that “everything needs to be on the table” when it comes to tackling the country’s debt.
The Pentagon has been ordered by the White House to find about $350-400 billion in cuts over the next ten years as part of efforts to slash the deficit.
But if a congressional “supercommittee” fails to agree on more than a trillion dollars in budget reductions by November 23, the stalemate would trigger automatic cuts that could hit the Pentagon and other agencies hard.
Mullen, who retires at the end of the month after a four-year tenure as the military’s top ranking officer, reiterated his concerns that cuts beyond the planned $400 billion limit would have a disastrous effect.
“If the cuts go much deeper than those proposed, and certainly should sequestration (automatic cuts) occur, it would place unacceptable risk on our ability to meet our requirements,” he said.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that deadlock in Congress “would force defense cuts that, in my view, would do catastrophic damage to our military and its ability to protect the country.”
Panetta, who served as budget director under former president Bill Clinton, has repeatedly argued that the only way to solve the deficit and debt is to tackle so-called entitlement programs, including expensive benefit and pension programs, and address a shortage of tax revenues.