As President Obama is threatening to veto a bill to increase military spending, his top military chiefs told Congress the president has never personally discussed the matter with them.
The military service chiefs, whose primary job is to oversee the training and equipping of the America's armed forces, uniformly described a looming crisis in combat readiness over the next five years, if mandatory spending caps known as sequestration remain in place, in testimony Thursday.
When questioned by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the four-star officers who head the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force all replied that they had no personal conversations with the president about the problems they described in great detail to the Senate Armed Services Committee keeping front line forces ready for war.
"Have you all talked to the president about this? Have you told the president what you're telling us? About the state of the military and the sequestration?" Graham asked the chiefs. "Have you had a conversation with the commander in chief telling him what you just told us? General Milley?"
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley answered, "I have not personally had a conversation with the president on this," followed by similar admission from his three fellow chiefs.
"I'm gonna make some suggestions to ya," Graham said. "Go tell the president what you're telling us."
The Joint Chiefs chairman, as the president's top military adviser, typically conveys to the president the sentiments of the individual chiefs. But any member can request time with the commander in chief, especially if he feels his views are not being adequately represented.
Graham says it's "repugnant" that Obama is refusing to sign a defense authorization bill that addresses critical needs in the military because Democrats insist on getting increases in domestic spending as a concession for supporting a higher Pentagon budget.
"I can't believe the commander in chief is sitting on the sidelines and watching this happen, taking a laissez-faire attitude that if you send me a bill that increases defense spending without increasing non-defense spending I will veto it."
Under questioning, Graham got the chiefs to concede that sequestration spending limits are as much of a threat to the U.S. military as the Islamic State.
"When you rank threats to our military from nation-states and terrorists would say sequestration is a threat to our military?" asked Graham.
"Yes sir," Milley said.
Then Graham took it a step further.
"Would you agree with me that when you rank the threats against the military that you have to put Congress and the president in that mix if we don't fix sequestration?"
At that point, Sen. John McCain, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, interjected, "You are not required to answer that question." Graham quickly withdrew it.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice strictly prohibits any military officer from making contemptuous remarks against the commander in chief.
And Milley said simply, "Right. I'm not judging the president or Congress. I will abstain."