Pentagon leaders detail ‘lasting and irreversible’ damage from sequestration
By Jeremy Herb - 02/12/13 10:56 AM ET
Pentagon leaders explained in great detail Tuesday the ways that sequestration will hollow out the military and cause “lasting and irreversible” damage at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Both Democrats and Republicans agreed the sequester has to be stopped, but the hearing did not get any closer to resolving how to replace the looming cuts.
A near-full roster of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made a rare joint appearance on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to avert sequestration and stop operating on a continuing resolution. One by one, the military leaders laid out the dangers of the automatic cuts: the loss of 100,000 more soldiers, canceled deployments, the loss of essential training and an inability to carry out the new U.S. military strategy if the budget calamities were not halted.
“What you have this year in the next few months is a true crisis in military readiness,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday. “The cloud of uncertainty hanging over our nation’s defense affairs is already having lasting and irreversible effects.”
Sequestration is set to go into effect March 1, which would cut $46 billion from the Pentagon’s 2013 budget. Cuts of roughly equal size would also hit non-defense domestic spending.
While military leaders stayed mostly quiet when sequestration was set to hit in January, the Pentagon has taken a different — and more vocal — tack after the two-month delay pushed the deadline back to March 1.
The department has already begun planning for sequestration, including a hiring freeze and the cancellation of Navy carrier deployments. The Pentagon has warned that sequestration will result in up to 22 furlough days for its near 800,000 civilian workforce through the end of the 2013 fiscal year in September.
The problems of sequestration are compounded by the continuing resolution (CR) that’s in effect through March 27. Pentagon leaders warn that extending the CR for a full-year — which keeps funding levels the same from the prior year — would cause nearly as many problems as sequestration itself.
“We need budget certainty, that is, we need the antithesis of sequestration: a steady, predictable funding stream,” said Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Tuesday’s Senate hearing was designed in part as an effort from defense-minded lawmakers to convince their colleagues that sequestration is a danger to national security. The Joint Chiefs will also be testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
“Some members of Congress and commentators in the press have said that we should let sequestration go into effect, that it would be better to severely cut the budget than to work out a deficit-reduction agreement that would require compromise. I could not disagree more,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.).
President Obama is expected to use his State of the Union address to make the case against letting the across-the-board cuts take effect, and he will argue that some of the money to replace the cuts must come from higher taxes.
But GOP lawmakers have rejected including new revenues in a deal to avert sequestration, and some House Republicans say that they will only accept sequestration or alternate spending cuts of the same size.
GOP defense hawks have proposed their own bill to do away with the first year of sequestration through cuts in the federal workforce, a bill sponsored by Senate Armed Services ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). But that bill has not gained any traction.
McCain said Tuesday that he felt like the whole episode was an “Orwellian” experience.
“This is really a disconnect, the likes of which I have never seen before,” McCain said. “The signal we are sending frankly to the Iranians is, ‘Don’t worry, the aircraft carrier is not coming.’ ”
In a brief question-and-answer period with the Pentagon leaders, the senators did not talk much about what’s needed to stop sequestration, a question that the military heads are not in a position to propose answers to.
But the fights from the past 16 months since the Budget Control Act passed, which set sequester in motion, still emerged at the hearing.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) noted that the top Republicans on the Armed Services Committee voted for the BCA, a shot at Republican leaders who have tried to blame sequestration on the president.
McCaskill also said to “sign me up” for painful cuts to fix sequestration, but added that revenue had to be part of the compromise, too.
Inhofe pushed the bill from the GOP defense hawks, saying that it wasn’t a “perfect solution, but it is better than doing nothing.”
He also took aim at Obama for not doing more to reach out to Congress.
“There is a growing concern that the president will not seriously negotiate with Congress on a compromise to sequestration until after it takes place on March 1,” Inhofe said.
Carter did not weigh in on a potential solution, but said he was losing hope that something would be done.
“I felt that we have been voices crying in the wilderness now for 16 months,” he said.