Governors may be divided when it comes to carrying out President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, but they’re united in their opposition to reducing Army National Guard forces.
There’s “unanimity” against cuts among state executives gathered in Washington, D.C., for the National Governors Association’s winter meeting, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe told a crowd of reporters Monday at a Kaiser Health News press conference. He said he expects the subject to come up during a meeting for governors at the White House on Monday.
Beebe’s comments came after Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad urged against the cuts on MSNBC. “The message from all the governors of both parties is: ‘Don’t cut the National Guard,’” he said.
The New York Times first reported the potential for a cutback in troop levels in advance of the release of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s budget proposal for the Pentagon. In the budget Hagel previewed Monday, Army forces would fall to between 440,000 and 450,000 in the years ahead from a peak of 570,000 in the years following the 9/11 attacks. The drawdown, which would reduce forces to their lowest levels since before the World War II buildup, would include National Guard cuts.
Branstad argued that all of those cuts should fall on the regular army, not the National Guard. “That’s the message I’m going to bring to the president if I get an opportunity to ask a question.”
The National Governors Association has long opposed reductions to National Guard forces. Governors command the National Guard forces in their respective states, and those forces are the first military responders to disasters and other emergencies. But they're are also called up by the federal government for deployment abroad, which has fueled resentment among states that question the best use of National Guard forces.
Hagel’s budget plan would reduce Guard forces to 315,000 and remove significant portions of its aviation fleet, according to the National Guard Association of the United States, which wants troop levels of 350,000, down from the 355,000 current members. That's the level at which National Guard levels would be frozen under a House bill submitted last month. If Congress lifted the budget cuts known as sequestration, National Guard levels would lower to 335,000 instead of the 315,000 under the new Pentagon spending plan.