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Massive budget cuts that are due to take effect in January if Congress can't reach a deficit-reduction deal could affect not only the active-duty military but also the National Guard, experts said Tuesday.
At a discussion at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Paul McHale, former assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, and retired Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, former deputy chief of U.S. Northern Command, said the across-the-board budget cuts would jeopardize the Guard's domestic readiness and are an "irresponsible approach" to U.S. national security.
Under the Budget Control Act passed by Congress last year, federal spending is set to be reduced starting in January by more than $1.2 trillion — automatic, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration that would affect every government agency — if Congress does not act. More than $500 billion would come from the Defense Department budget.
McHale warned that although sequestration will have the most direct impact on the active-duty military, the National Guard cannot avoid cuts to its operational capabilities. Funding reductions could result in less-trained, less-equipped personnel and longer response periods, he said.
Blum, a former National Guard Bureau chief, said a shrinking budget could mean the Army would have to transfer funding to the National Guard and possibly cover some of its domestic duties.
"It's very likely that 20,000 National Guard troops will be cut," McHale warned.
Blum argued that even if personnel reductions can be avoided, the Guard's capability is at risk because the Pentagon will cut funding in other areas, such as equipment and facilities.
McHale and Blum agreed that although personnel drawdowns are "inevitable and necessary," leaders need to find smart ways to cut other than simply slashing troop numbers.
Blum added that Congress has to make the tough decision as soon as possible.
"If you have to lose 18 pounds, you can change your diet and exercise, or simply cut off your head." Blum said.