Senators seek to make increase in Army troops permanent
Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., are considering draft legislation that would codify in law the Army's temporary fix to relieve the strain on U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, a move that top Pentagon officials say could cost the service billions in operations and maintenance costs and hinder transformation efforts.
During testimony last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld defended his use of emergency powers to temporarily raise Army ranks above congressionally mandated levels over the next four years.
Rumsfeld was criticized by Democratic lawmakers for his decision to omit costs associated with the increase from the fiscal 2005 budget request, choosing instead to seek emergency funding in a $50 billion supplemental expected early next year.
He also stressed that the temporary increase would reduce the current burden on U.S. soldiers while avoiding the billions of dollars that would be needed to pay for a permanent increase.
Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker shared similar views with lawmakers during late January testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
"It puts readiness at risk, it puts training at risk, it puts modernization at risk, it puts transformation at risk -- and that's why I'm resisting it," Schoomaker said, adding that every 10,000 soldiers added to the Army costs $1.2 billion a year.
In addition to Rumsfeld and Schoomaker, advocates of a permanent increase in end-strength face opposition from House and Senate lawmakers wary of sacrificing military modernization in favor of paying for more troops.
But the Army's desire for additional headroom could open the door to bipartisan support of a permanent troop increase.
Last year, Senate Republicans failed to defeat an amendment by Reed and Hagel to expand the size of the Army by 10,000 soldiers.
The amendment to President Bush's fiscal 2004 request for wartime supplemental funding would have raised the Army's active-duty end strength to provide for the proper mix of troops necessary for an occupation force there, including additional military police, light infantry, special operations and civil affairs units. But the provision was eliminated during House-Senate conference negotiations in late October.
Since then, House Democrats have added fuel to the fire with a bill introduced in December by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., to temporarily increase Air Force, Army and Marine Corps end-strength by 8 percent over five years.
Although Tauscher and others have been frustrated by a lack of majority attention to the issue, House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has raised the subject publicly on several occasions, including last week's committee hearing on the fiscal 2005 defense budget. Hunter has long favored an increase in military ranks and opposed end-strength cuts during the 1990s.