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On Budget Issues, Pentagon's Rhetoric Is Challenged

The budget battles in Washington have inspired the need for some verbal gymnastics that have challenged even the most adept doublespeakers at the Pentagon. As one member of the House pointed out today, some Pentagonians have insisted that Congress cannot cut a single additional dollar from defense, without endangering the national defense strategy.

But then, when the military is tasked with planning an attack on Syria, officials insist they are ready when the White House gives the order. Perhaps that is because it is not part of the military mentality to decline a mission. Or perhaps it is because the military's budget is so gargantuan, even the military's top brass do not know how rich they are.

In a House Armed Services Committee hearing today, Marine Commandant James Amos told lawmakers, "Your Marines remain a constant hedge against the unexpected," the standard semper fi promise of outstanding performance with whatever equipment they are given.

But at the same time Amos said "tiered readiness is not an option." That means he can't have some Marines trained and ready to fight, and others only half-ready to fight.

Last year the Pentagon said, that automatic budget cuts would seriously undercut defense. But then warfighters went out and found billions in cuts, and were able to reduce civilian furloughs from 22 days down to 6 days. Now, the military faces another year of sequestration, and probably many more years after that. So military chiefs need to somehow pump up the volume, when it's already at 10.

Larry Abramson is a national security correspondent for NPR.

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Larry Abramson is NPR's National Security Correspondent. He covers the Pentagon, as well as issues relating to the thousands of vets returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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