Top HASC Democrat: Don’t Bet on Sequestration Going Away

But the Pentagon budget starting in fiscal 2016 breaks the congressional spending caps.

<p>The Air Force's A-10 fleet is being retired under the fiscal year 2015 budget request.</p>
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
March 3, 2014, 9:57 a.m.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is sub­mit­ting a five-year budget that largely ig­nores se­quester budget caps, but the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber said the lower spend­ing levels are likely here to stay.

“I think if you had to bet, you would bet that se­quest­ra­tion is go­ing to stick around,” said Wash­ing­ton Demo­crat Adam Smith, adding that lead­er­ship doesn’t have the votes to undo the budget caps.

Smith and Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Randy For­bes of Vir­gin­ia, a con­tender for the HASC chair, ap­peared on De­fense News, which aired Sunday.

The Pentagon’s fisc­al 2015 budget and five-year budget plan are be­ing re­leased Tues­day. The five-year plan is ex­pec­ted to break con­gres­sion­al budget caps by $115 bil­lion. And though De­fense De­part­ment of­fi­cials said they cre­ated a five-year plan that sticks to se­quester-level spend­ing re­quire­ments, the full plan isn’t ex­pec­ted to be re­leased to Con­gress.

And For­bes, who voted against the 2011 Budget Con­trol Act, shif­ted the blame for the cuts away from Con­gress, say­ing, “It’s the fifth year in a row they’ve rolled out cuts from this ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

“This ad­min­is­tra­tion, when they first star­ted down this cut road “¦ when Sec­ret­ary Gates came out with these ef­fi­cien­cies, Con­gress wasn’t man­dat­ing that,” For­bes said.

In 2010, Gates out­lined ap­prox­im­ately $100 bil­lion in Pentagon sav­ings over five years. In the same year, the Sus­tain­able De­fense Task Force, which was called for by then-Rep. Barney Frank, iden­ti­fied ap­prox­im­ately $960 bil­lion in sav­ings that could be made over 10 years.

For­bes ad­ded that he be­lieves the cur­rent cuts are the “wrong dir­ec­tion” and mem­bers should “be very care­ful” when mak­ing de­cisions about the fisc­al 2015 budget.

But the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s budget for the up­com­ing fisc­al year sticks to the spend­ing caps Con­gress passed after the Decem­ber budget agree­ment. And Smith said Con­gress won’t raise the ap­prox­im­ately $496 bil­lion baseline spend­ing cap.

To stay with­in the caps, De­fense of­fi­cials are pro­pos­ing a wide ar­ray of cuts, many of which will face an up­hill fight on the Hill.

“At this point, you’ve seen op­pos­i­tion to just about every cut”¦. The bet­ter ques­tion is which of these cuts is go­ing to get con­gres­sion­al sup­port,” Smith said, adding that he is in fa­vor of many of the cuts — in­clud­ing BRAC, which most op­pose.

De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel pre­viewed the Pentagon’s soon-to-be-re­leased budget re­quest last week, with top of­fi­cials ap­pear­ing across Wash­ing­ton to try to get out ahead of Con­gress and shape the nar­rat­ive of what will likely be a con­ten­tious budget battle over a re­quest that in­cludes base clos­ures, a push to get rid of the A-10, and re­ques­ted changes to pay and health care.

For­bes and Smith agreed that the per­son­nel cuts face an al­most im­possible con­gres­sion­al cli­mate, with Smith not­ing that mem­bers went “bal­list­ic” over a re­cent 1 per­cent de­crease in the cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ment for work­ing-age mil­it­ary re­tir­ees.

For­bes com­pared try­ing to make changes to the grow­ing mil­it­ary per­son­nel costs be­fore the Mil­it­ary Com­pens­a­tion and Re­tire­ment Mod­ern­iz­a­tion Com­mis­sion re­leases its re­port, to a “sur­geon say­ing we’re go­ing to op­er­ate be­fore we get all your tests back.” But the com­mis­sion’s re­port isn’t sched­uled to be giv­en to Con­gress un­til 2015, well after the Oct. 1 start date of the 2015 fisc­al year.

But the Pentagon could get a budget boost, with of­fi­cials bring­ing back the “wish list” of un­fun­ded pri­or­it­ies. For­bes blamed the ad­min­is­tra­tion for shut­ting down the list un­der Gates.

“I think it’s im­port­ant we have that. We need to know what they need and what we didn’t fund,” For­bes said.

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