Citing a federal defense budget already stretched thin by sequestration, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said Thursday in a tour of Fort Gordon that he has reservations about giving President Obama the authority to use U.S. military force in Syria.
“You cannot, on the one hand, as a congressional policy-maker talk about shutting down the government or not funding a continuing resolution, and on the same token talk about authorizing a strike that could cost $300 million in a matter of days,” Isakson said. “Our military has to have the capability of being funded to carry out the missions that they are given, and Congress cannot have it both ways.”
Isakson’s thoughts reflect a growing divide in the Senate, with lawmakers bracing for a political showdown next week, when it is scheduled to debate whether to grant Obama’s request.
On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 to approve the request. The panel ruled out U.S. combat operations on the ground, but agreed “decisive changes” are needed to the present balance of power in the Syrian military.
The Obama administration said it has video proving the regime of President Bashar Assad was responsible for the nerve and sarin gas attacks on Aug. 21 that killed more than 1,400 civilians, including at least 400 children. Other casualty estimates are lower, and the Syrian government denies involvement, contending rebels fighting to topple the government were to blame.
In his first visit to Fort Gordon since March 2012, when the National Security Agency celebrated the grand opening of the Georgia Cryptologic Center, Isakson was given a 360-degree visual tour of the Army post from the top balcony of its Signal Tower.
From the view, the senator said that he was impressed by the post’s updated barracks but that Fort Gordon has a tremendous need for rehabilitated training facilities, especially with talks of the Army consolidating its cyber intelligence training into a new center of excellence.
The senator also visited the Georgia Regents University Cancer Center and the Savannah River Site’s mixed oxide fuel facility, but said the military remains a top priority.
“Fort Gordon is critical to the defense of the United States of America and the support of our troops overseas,” the senator said, commending post and community leaders for the way they navigated civilian furloughs to carry out security missions at home and abroad.
Isakson said that sequestration has caused great stress in the area and that the automatic spending cuts have finally elevated to the point that Congress is pressured to do “what it (is) supposed to be doing – prioritizing spending, and passing budgets and appropriations bill.”
“Sequestration was a poison pill that we passed, thinking Congress would never turn its back on its responsibility, but Congress did,” Isakson said.
Isakson said he is working daily with local delegates to replace the across-the-board budget cuts that led to a six-day furlough this summer at Fort Gordon and that, according to a report from the Association of Defense Communities, could result in the loss of 6,000 civilian defense jobs nationwide in fiscal year 2014.
“The worst way to cut the budget is across the board, because you penalize the people who are doing a great job and reward those who are not doing a good job,” said Isakson, a former real estate executive. “What you ought to do is prioritize your spending to do the least amount of damage possible, and I think in the next 12 months Congress will find a way to end sequestration but continue to manage spending in such a way that we reduce our debt and our deficit.”
Associated Press reports were used in this article.