By DONNA CASSATA, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the House Budget Committee said Thursday he doesn't believe the nation's commanders gave Congress a budget based on military strategy, prompting a push back from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In one statement, Rep. Paul Ryan challenged both President Barack Obama's defense budget request of $614 billion for next year and the weeks of testimony from the leaders of the armed services, who have said the defense blueprint was crafted based on a revised military strategy.
"We don't think the generals are giving us their true advice," the Wisconsin Republican told a National Journal forum on the budget. "I think there's a lot of budget smoke and mirrors in the Pentagon's budget."
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he didn't interpret Ryan's comments as suggesting the generals were lying. Instead, Dempsey said the remarks indicate that the generals have failed to persuade lawmakers that the budget was based on strategy, not numbers.
"So my response is, I stand by my testimony," Dempsey said during a trip from Latin America to Washington. "We started with a strategy. We mapped it to a budget. It's just the first step."
Obama and congressional Republicans agreed on a budget last August that calls for defense cuts of $487 billion over a decade, a reflection of the drawdown of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the pressure to reduce the nation's deficit.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the budget shifts the Pentagon's focus from the long wars to future challenges in Asia, the Mideast and in cyberspace. In congressional testimony, Dempsey and other military leaders have said the strategy shaped the budget. But Republicans contend that the spending plan was built on budget numbers — the ones they agreed to last summer.
Asked for clarification, Conor Sweeney, a spokesman for Ryan, said the congressman "believes the integrity of our generals and admirals is unimpeachable. They serve our country with distinction and unparalleled honor. Unfortunately, there is an inconsistency between the strategic goals and the budgetary targets that our generals and admirals have been given by the White House."
The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, demanded that Ryan apologize.
"It's very, very irresponsible and shows a high level of ignorance on Paul Ryan's part about how the Defense Department goes about making decisions," Smith said in an interview. "I guess if you want to justify your position you say whatever you have to say, but there's no question that the Pentagon did a major, major strategic review and as General Demesey and others have said, this is the plan they support and they believe it's the right direction for the country."
After budgets nearly doubled over a decade, the Pentagon is looking at tighter spending for next year — $525.4 billion in base spending and another $88.5 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The total is nearly $32 billion less than this year's budget.
Lawmakers complained Thursday that as the Pentagon works to rein in spending, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program continues to exceed expected costs.
Frank Kendall III, who has been nominated to be undersecretary of defense for acquisition, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the program is about $150 billion over budget but officials are trying to minimize additional overruns in the future. He said there will continue to be cost adjustments as the test program goes on.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said the total cost of the F-35 is expected to be about $1.45 trillion over the life of the program. He said last's year's estimate was about $1 trillion, but that total did not include some of the costs that are now being included in the latest estimate.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns contributed to this report.
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