A decade of massive annual increases in military spending have given the Pentagon record budgets, but officials are warning that, as financial problems make more hikes unlikely, the pay raises and benefits packages Congress has given to troops are “unsustainable.”
Instead the Pentagon is pushing Congress to decrease the amount of money set aside for troop pay and benefits, and increase the amount it spends on weapons and operations.
Though in practice the Pentagon hasn’t had to balance the enormous health care costs from all its casualties and all the other expenses associated with its two major wars, officials seem convinced that sooner or later those costs will have to be reckoned with instead of being funded with emergency spending and budget hikes.
Undersecretary Clifford Stanley warned in March that the rising personnel costs, already around 1/4 of overall Pentagon spending, could eventually “dramatically affect the readiness of the department.”
Stanley’s comments were controversial, and sparked an angry reaction from VFW leaders, who insisted that there was no link between costs and readiness, and argued that Congress could always be prevailed upon for a larger budget.
Stanley’s comment seems to be indicative of the overall sentiment among Pentagon leaders, but the VFW opposition aside the real issue will likely be with recruitment.
Military recruiters have thrived in the economic downturn, particularly with the promise of generous benefits packages to entice recruits. As the Afghan War continues to worsen, Vice Admiral Ferguson says that the “extremely generous” pay has encouraged recruits to stick around longer than they had before. If the Pentagon leadership manages to have its way, recruiting may again become difficult and the military may once again have to turn to “stop-loss” en masse to fill its positions.