Here are some fresh developments that feuding politicians have created for the U.S. military in wartime:
• Four service branches, excluding only the Navy, have suspended tuition assistance through at least September this year, a move that will interrupt continuing education plans for tens of thousands of service members and force others to use GI Bill benefits earlier than planned.
• All of the services expect recruiting to get a lot more difficult as recruiter travel is restricted, recruiting commands are forced to cut marketing and advertising, and recruit processing centers are forced to close Saturdays, starting next month, because civilians on staff will be furloughed. From 10,000 to 14,000 fewer recruits will be signed as a result, officials said.
• TRICARE, the military’s health insurance program, is impacted by a $3.2 billion cut to the defense health program. Unless Congress allows reallocation of medical dollars from research and hospital equipment accounts, TRICARE by late August will be forced to delay payments to private sector doctors caring for military family members and retirees.
Not long ago, any one of these developments would have sent guardians of military personnel on Capitol Hill into public rants. These days, lawmakers are as impassive as auditors while listening to military officials present fresh details on how the across-the-board budget cuts are buffeting morale, slicing into personnel support programs and harming U.S. readiness.
There were only hints of disappointment from members of the House armed services’ subcommittee on military personnel as Defense manpower officials and the services’ personnel chiefs gave more specifics on the disabling effects of sequestration.
“I sit here in amazement to think about the problems that you have,” Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., told military leaders. But Jones wasn’t angry with his congressional leaders or even President Obama. He was angry with Harmid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, for his recent outrageous claim that the U.S. military colluded with the Taliban in attacks on Afghan authorities.
“We’re spending roughly $6-to-$8 billion a month in Afghanistan. It is a failed policy. We, in Congress, certainly will be debating sequestration and where we are going to make the cuts… And yet I doubt if Mr. Karzai is worried a bit about his budget.”
California Rep. Susan Davis, ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, noted the armed services committee had held several hearings on the impact of sequestration before $46 billion in automatic cuts took effect this month. But none of those hearings, she said, had focused on solutions.
“Unfortunately, the only people who have the ability to resolve this is Congress. We must find common ground and be willing to compromise for the long-term stability of our nation,” Davis said.
Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at: