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Thune: Obama Plan Shortchanges Military

When President Barack Obama took office in January, he promptly set the tone for government spending by supporting a $787 billion “stimulus— spending bill, followed by a $3.9 trillion spending proposal for fiscal 2010. By itself, the Obama budget doubles the total debt created by every president from George Washington to George W. Bush. It accounts for 28 percent of the gross domestic product, the highest level as a share of the GDP since World War II.

With all of this spending, one would expect that defense spending would benefit as well. However, it seems the defense budget is the one area where the president has shown restraint, even though American troops have been and remain engaged on two different fronts in the global war on terror. The president spent $7.4 billion on defense items in the stimulus bill (less than 1 percent of the total), and his 2010 defense budget is similarly austere when considering the massive increases in other areas of the budget.

Despite claims that he is increasing the defense budget by 4 percent over the previous year, Obama’s proposed 2010 defense budget increase is substantially less than the robust 6.7 percent increase in the overall budget. By contrast, the Obama budget proposes a 30 percent increase for the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federally funded “volunteer— organization that pays volunteers anywhere from $12,000 to $22,000 per year. Rather than proposing such significant increases only for nondefense spending, the Obama budget should have proposed equivalent increases for national security.

Obama’s austere defense budget means that missile defense spending will be cut by $1.4 billion, that production of the F-22 fighter will end at 187 planes, and that the Future Combat Systems will essentially be terminated. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has warned that there will be additional weapons system cuts proposed in the future.

I am particularly disturbed by the Obama administration’s proposal to shelve the Next Generation Bomber program purportedly until there is “a better understanding of the need, the requirement and the technology— according to Gates. The requirements for a next-generation bomber were already carefully considered in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, a Congressionally mandated comprehensive examination of all elements of the defense program.

One of the Department of Defense’s 2006 QDR decisions was to “develop a new land-based, penetrating long-range strike capability to be fielded by 2018.— This decision followed from the 2006 QDR’s statement of the requirements that necessitate a next-generation bomber, which are to dissuade major and emerging powers from developing capabilities that could threaten regional stability, to deter conflict, to defeat aggression should deterrence fail, and to mitigate anti-access threats and offset potential political coercion designed to limit U.S. access to any region.

If anything, this list of requirements has only become more valid since 2006, particularly in the case of China, which has significantly invested in cyberwarfare, anti-satellite warfare, and anti-aircraft and anti-ship weaponry that could threaten our ability to project power in the Pacific.

Furthermore, Gates himself has advocated for the next-generation bomber as recently as January of this year, when he wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine that the ability of the United States to strike from over the horizon “will require shifts from short-range to longer-range systems, such as the next-generation bomber.— Gates also advocated for the next-generation bomber during a speech at the National Defense University last September, as well as in a similar piece for Joint Force Quarterly.

These facts suggest that the decision to shelve the next-generation bomber may have been driven by an Obama administration determined to fund programs for paid volunteers and other increases in nondefense programs at the expense of crucial national security programs, and certainly not driven by questions about requirements or national security. With an aging bomber fleet, almost half of which dates back to the Cuban Missile Crisis, it is imperative that we stay on track to build a new bomber.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.) is vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference and is ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Airland.

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