And a struggle is brewing between the Pentagon's unionized civilian workforce and its legions of contractors. Changes that disrupt either constituency will only exacerbate those tensions.
A chorus of detractors is accusing the president of “ostrich-budgeting” and refusing to acknowledge sequestration. That includes Sen. Jim Inhofe (Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who says the proposal would be “saddling the men and women of our military with disproportionate and illogical budget cuts that drastically undermine the readiness and capabilities they need to operate in an increasingly dangerous world.”
The nuclear arms-control community is also critical of the president. “Congress will be faced with the task of paring these numbers down to fit within the caps,” says Laicie Heeley, senior policy analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “Given the wide gulf that exists between the two parties, we will again be looking at a very complicated budget year.”
The budget situation undermines the credibility of the U.S. defense establishment, says Travis Sharp, an analyst for the moderate Center for a New American Security that was founded by Obama's former Pentagon under secretary for policy, Michele Flournoy. To help restore the U.S.'s standing, Sharp says the Pentagon needs to truly reform its business practices and clarify the military services' roles and missions in cyberspace. The latter would save money and help the U.S. respond to cyberattacks, he says.
Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute points out that unrealistic budget requests “may seem to help the military in the near term but are actually exacerbating ongoing damage and making the outlook worse through continued uncertainty.
“Poor decisions like not sending an aircraft carrier to the [Persian] Gulf and cutting tuition assistance for service members are, in part, the result of rosy and ultimately false political calculations regarding the 2013 continuing resolution and sequester outcomes,” she adds. “The president's 2014 defense budget only continues these trends and accelerates them.”