WASHINGTON — The nation's top military officers warned Congress Thursday that continued automatic cuts in the armed services' budgets will force reductions in manpower, training and weapons purchases that reduce the nation's ability to defend itself and could cause higher U.S. casualties.
The complaints by the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines drew a sympathetic response from the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said cuts scheduled for next year would leave the U.S. less able to defend its global interests, while the panel's senior Republican, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said President Ronald Reagan would be rolling in his grave if he saw how weak the military was becoming.
"This is unsustainable," Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, told the lawmakers, referring to curbed spending for training, equipment and force strength that the Marines face. He called those cuts "a formula for more American casualties."
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, bemoaned the reduced number of ships the Navy will be able to deploy and said, "We're tapped out."
The automatic cuts, called a sequester, started taking effect this year across defense and many domestic programs. Through 2021, they are slated to cost defense programs a total of $480 billion. They are being imposed because Congress failed to reach a budget compromise for reducing federal deficits.
Because of that, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., apologized to the officers.
"We in Congress created this monster, and we keep dragging you up to the Hill to tell us how much damage it has done," Udall said.
Republicans and Democrats alike, as well as President Barack Obama, have expressed a desire to halt the sequester. But while Republicans want to retain an equal amount of savings by cutting federal spending, Democrats want to do it by also raising some taxes, and the two sides remain at a stalemate.
Some Republicans, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, want some of the substitute savings to come from the Pentagon itself, such as by reducing cost overruns for some weapons purchases.