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Lawmakers fight back as Navy plans to reduce ships, sailors

Rep. Wittman calls the DOD's FY23 budget proposal "grossly irresponsible."

WASHINGTON — The nation's top military leaders on Tuesday defended the Navy's plans to dramatically cut the number of ships and sailors in the fleet.

However, lawmakers fought back, arguing that the Defense Department's budget request for next year is insufficient to meet the threats of an ever-dangerous world.

Citing the threats posed by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, House Armed Services Committee members made clear they oppose the Navy's plans.

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Virginia, 2nd District), the vice-chair of the committee, recited a list of the cuts.

"There's some things in here, we're decommissioning 24 ships. We're not maximizing our ship capacity. We could build 15 DDGs. We're only building 10. We're stopping the LPD production line. We're pushing out the LHA," she said.

The Navy plan would also reduce the number of sailors in the fleet by 10,000 over the next five years.

Rep Rob Wittman (R-Virginia, 1st District), the top Republican on the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, said the plan is deeply flawed.

"This seems to be grossly irresponsible and completely denies the reality of what we are facing," he said.

But the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, defended the Navy's cuts in the Defense Department's proposed Fiscal Year 2023 budget.

"They are divesting of ships that are of marginal utility," he said. 

Milley defended the plan to retire 24 ships over the next five years to free up more than $3.6 billion.

"Capability matters," he said. "And the ships we're retiring, the two dozen ships that are coming out of the inventory in this particular budget, the Navy has assessed those as very, very high maintenance costs, high to sustain the cost is exceeding the benefit of those ships staying on active duty sort of thing."

Lawmakers also questioned if the DOD's FY23 budget proposal does enough to address mental health treatment for the troops in light of rising suicide rates in the various branches.

"The biggest problem is the lack of behavioral health expertise in the system," said Rep Jackie Speier (D-California). "We are woefully underserved in that regard."

But Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin insisted that the health and well-being of the force is a top priority.

"This is something that's very important to me, and our department remains focused on it," Austin said.

Several Republican members of the committee questioned the wisdom of the Pentagon's COVID-19 vaccination mandate and insisted that the order is harming readiness and recruitment.

However, Austin said DOD has no plans to modify or repeal the mandate.

Austin and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) got into a heated exchange on Tuesday over allegations the military is pushing "wokeism" and socialism, along with what the Florida congressman called recent “blown calls” by the Pentagon such as how long it would take for Russia to prevail in Ukraine.

“So, I guess I’m wondering, what in the $773 billion that you’re requesting today is going to help you make assessments that are accurate in the face of so many blown calls?” Gaetz asked. 

Austin said he would let the budget proposal speak for itself.

While not related to this story, Gaetz is being investigated by the U.S. Dept. of Justice over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him, according to ABC News, the New York Times and Washington Post -- charges he has denied. 

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