Ashton Carter focuses on budget at confirmation hearing

By Tyler Pager, Medill News Service  |  Updated Feb. 4, 2015 at 5:14 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Automatic cuts to the Defense Department budget are "risky" because they imply diminished U.S. projection of power overseas, Ashton Carter said Wednesday at a Senate confirmation hearing in which there appeared to be little opposition to his nomination as the next defense secretary. Carter, President Barack Obama's nominee to replace Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the spending cuts set to begin in October because of mandates in the so-called sequester need to be reversed. "Sequester is risky to our defense, it introduces turbulence and uncertainty that are wasteful, and it conveys a misleadingly diminished picture of our power in the eyes of friends and foes alike," Carter said during the first day of his confirmation hearing. Instead, Carter said he wants to see the U.S. spend more on defense, but noted the Pentagon has a history of wasteful spending that must be curbed. "The taxpayer cannot comprehend, let alone support, the defense budget when they read of cost overruns, lack of accounting and accountability, needless overheard and the like," he said. "This must stop." Carter does not face a major challenge for the post so committee members used the hearing to share their critiques of Obama's foreign policies -- a stark contrast to Hagel's contentious hearing in 2013. Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he hopes to send Carter's name to the Senate for a confirmation vote by early next week. "I think it's very clear with the questions that are being asked today that this hearing really isn't about Ash Carter," said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. "I think there's a lot of confidence in your ability and I think there are few public servants as qualified as you for the nomination." Carter listed the ongoing war in Afghanistan, turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa and new dangers presented by cyber threats as some of the most pressing issues for America's national security. He also said he was "inclined" to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian-backed rebels, contrary to the current White House policy. McCain said Carter's top priorities should be setting a coherent national security strategy, rolling back sequestration and reforming defense acquisition. "Many of our military's challenges today as the result of years of mistakes and wasted resources," he said. McCain pressed Carter on his view of Obama's plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year, with the current level of 9,800 reduced by half by the end of this year. Carter said he agreed with Obama's plan, but would reassess it if conditions worsen. Referring to the release of the Islamic State's video showing a Jordanian soldier being burned alive Tuesday, Carter said the U.S. needs to continue its air strikes against ISIS, but also to take back territory when possible. He said in order to achieve a lasting defeat of ISIS, the U.S. must rebuild the Iraqi military and partner with a moderate Syrian force. Carter also said he would not succumb to pressure from the Obama administration to speed up transfers from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Hagel's hesitancy to expedite transfers apparently led to friction with the White House. Hagel announced his resignation on Nov. 24. If confirmed, Carter will become Obama's fourth defense secretary. Carter was the deputy secretary of defense from October 2011 to December 2013, serving as the Defense Department's chief operating officer.

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