WASHINGTON - The Air Force plans to cut aircraft maintenance by one-third, eliminate support for popular military air shows and cut support to more than 30 weapons systems if the mandatory budget cuts set to go into effect March 1 are not stopped or adjusted, military budget documents obtained by USA TODAY show.
The Army says the same forced cuts mean they will have to cut funding for counter-IED efforts, intelligence and surveillance aircraft and new soldier equipment. All of these cuts will happen, the services say, if Congress and the White House don't hold off the cuts required by a summer 2011 budget deal.
The Navy would slash by more than half the number flying hours for its warplanes on aircraft carriers in the Middle East. It would also not send an aircraft carrier task force scheduled to go to the Persian Gulf.
These and other cuts will go into effect unless the White House and Congress can reach a deal on long-term spending to avoid the process known as sequestration. President Obama announced his plan to avert the budget crisis that includes a package of spending cuts and increases in tax revenue.
On Wednesday, Republicans from the House and Senate unveiled their own plan, which includes extending the deadline by freezing pay for the federal workforce. That proposal was announced by Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. McKeon chairs the House Armed Services Committee while Inhofe is the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Obama also met at the White House Wednesday with executives of major defense contractors.
The military services face $46 billion in cuts this year if an agreement is not reached. Much of that is due to sequestration, while additional reductions will take place because spending for its 2013 year has not been approved. That means it continues to spend under guidelines set by the 2012 budget.
Congress has asked the services repeatedly for what they would stop if the mandatory cuts go into effect.
There is renewed agreement that the spending cuts need to be replaced, but little consensus on how to get it done.
"If it's implemented, it'll cut every ship, aircraft, tank, truck program, research and development across the board," warned Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a leading advocate to replace the impending cuts.
A group of senior House and Senate Republicans released a proposal Wednesday to replace the cuts through the end of the fiscal year in September with an $85 billion alternative proposal to cut spending with a reduction in the federal workforce through attrition and a pay freeze for members of Congress. The bill would allow federal agencies to hire one person for every three who leave their employment.
"We got into this mess together, and we're going to have to get out together," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a co-sponsor of the legislation, noting that lawmakers in both parties supported the 2011 legislation that led to the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade after Congress failed to come up with a deficit reduction package on its own.
The GOP proposal does not include any tax revenues, unlike the proposal outlined Tuesday by Obama that called for delaying the cuts with a "balanced mix" of revenues and alternative cuts until a broader budget framework can be achieved.
The president, supported by congressional Democrats, wants revenues to play a role in offsetting the impending cuts, but there is near unanimity among Republicans against any new taxes following the year-end "fiscal cliff" budget deal that raised tax rates on wealthy Americans. "The American people believe that the tax question has been settled," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, reiterating GOP opposition to new revenues.
Recent acceptance among lawmakers that the cuts would likely take effect on March 1 has been replaced with new momentum to fix it.
"Last year things weren't desperate. They are desperate this year," Inhofe said. "Last year we weren't talking about the president's own secretary of Defense saying that this is devastating. It's disarming America."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in an interview last week with USA TODAY, said the military would be unable to handle threats outside the war in Afghanistan and a crisis in the Middle East if the cuts occur. The Pentagon would have to reduce the Army by an additional 100,000 soldiers, Panetta said. It already plans to shed 100,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines under an existing plan to cut $487 billion over 10 years.
All the services anticipate furloughs for their civilian workforce. Among the cuts the services are proposing if sequestration goes into effect:
- Army: Only units deploying to Afghanistan and Korea will receive full training. Equipment scheduled to return to the United States from Afghanistan would remain there, delaying its repair and use by soldiers at their home posts.
- Air Force: Flying hours will cut by 18%, and only missions in Afghanistan, flying Obama and nuclear missions would be untouched. Military airshows, including the Thunderbirds aerobatic flying team, and flyovers of sporting events would be eliminated.
- Navy: The service will suspend naval operations in and around South America, deferring ship maintenance, cancelling Fleet Week and flights of the Blue Angels airshow team.