As is becoming the norm in Washington, House Republicans are standing in stark opposition to the president's policy, and are working to pass a budget that flies in the face of the one agreed upon by President Obama and Congress last summer.
House Republicans are pressing ahead with a defense budget that adds $8 billion, boosts nuclear weapons programs and slows cost-cutting regulations in the force as the military emerges from two long wars. They accuse Obama of leaving the nation vulnerable by diminishing the military.
The budget largely inoculates the military from the austerity measures the GOP has been fighting for over the last couple of years, and in slowing down the pace of force cuts, could allow more service members to keep their jobs longer. But the proposed budget comes at a steep cost for other segments of the population: Republicans wants to boost spending by cutting deeply into programs that help the poorest Americans, such as Medicaid and food stamps.
The White House has threatened to veto the measure, offering a laundry list of objections. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta slammed the House Armed Services Committee last week for restoring favorite programs, arguing that the move would mean cuts in training or equipment that could affect readiness.
The bill also snubs the Obama administration's new military strategy that shifts the focus from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to future challenges in Asia, the Mideast and in cyberspace. It calls for keeping tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan at least through the end of 2014. Lawmakers rejected an amendment Thursday that would have limited funds only to the "safe and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors from Afghanistan," thus ending combat operations.
Stepping up criticism of the House's budget, Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said Wednesday that the bill's limits on the pace of force cuts would create budget problems. The Army plans to shrink the force from a peak of 570,000 to 490,000 by 2017. The bill slows the reduction in the force, saying the Army can only cut to 552,000 by the end of 2013.
Odierno said in the long run, the budget actually could force more troops out of the military instead of keeping them in.
"This might cause us to force more people out of the Army than we want, instead of using natural attrition over the five- or six-year period that we've identified over the last two budget submissions," said Odierno, who added that he had spoken to House members about changing the bill.
The administration also strongly objected to Republican-backed provisions in the bill that bar same-sex marriages on military installations, measures added by committee conservatives still angry with the decision to allow gays to serve openly in the military.
Though largely expected to pass the House, the budget has stalled as lawmakers debate over whether to end the indefinite detention without trial of terrorist suspects, even U.S. citizens seized within the nation's borders. Democrats and tea party Republicans have found common ground on the issue, arguing that indefinite detention gives the executive branch extraordinary power and violates constitutional rights.