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Pentagon Budget-Cutting Plans Sure To Draw Flak

A U.S. soldier stands guard at the airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Audio

Aired 2/24/14

One of this morning's most talked-about headlines comes from The New York Times:

"Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level."

According to the Times, when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday briefs Congress about the military's spending plans, the budget will include "plans to shrink the United States Army to its smallest force since before the World War II buildup and eliminate an entire class of Air Force attack jets."

"Under Mr. Hagel's proposals," the Times says, "the Army would drop over the coming years to between 440,000 and 450,000. That would be the smallest United States Army since 1940."

Those proposals are sure to spark opposition from lawmakers, the Times notes.

On Morning Edition, though, NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman said the sharpest reaction to the Pentagon's plans may be to the military's suggestions for ways to reduce the growth in spending on pay and benefits.

As Tom said, Pentagon officials warn that those costs "are eating us alive." The average annual cost of pay and benefits for each active duty member of the military, for instance, has risen from about $54,000 a decade ago to $110,000 now, he said. The costs of health insurance and other benefits for retirees are also soaring.

Hagel has previously told NPR that because the rising pay, benefit and retirement costs are accounting for an increasingly large share of the Pentagon's budget, they threaten to leave the nation with "a military that's heavily compensated, but probably a force that's not capable and not ready." If those costs aren't trimmed, he said, training and hardware will have to be cut instead.

But the Pentagon's proposals for how to cut such expenses won't be popular, Tom said. Among the suggestions Hagel is expectd to outline: smaller pay raises for military personnel, higher enrollment fees and deductibles for their health insurance, smaller housing allowances and trims to the subsidies that keep prices low at commissaries.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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