WASHINGTON — Two prominent US senators say there is “no sign” Congress will pass the kind of sweeping fiscal bill that would void or lessen $500 billion in Pentagon cuts already being implemented.
And they want the Pentagon to finally spell out how it would implement the first tranche of that decade-spanning cut to planned military spending.
A joint statement issued Friday by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., declared, “there has been virtually no sign of movement toward a bipartisan agreement that would enable us to do so.”
Neither the Pentagon’s 2014 budget request nor budget resolutions passed by the House and Senate factored in the first year of the sequestration cuts, about $40 billion that must be removed from the military’s 2013 budget.
The Pentagon’s $526.1 billion 2014 budget blueprint was one piece of a larger Obama administration budget plan that essentially was the White House’s opening offer to congressional Republicans toward the kind of “grand bargain” fiscal deal that would replace sequestration with other deficit-reduction items.
But with work toward that deal apparently stalled, Levin and Inhofe want to know how the Pentagon wants lawmakers to help the congressional defense committees actually implement the 2013 round of sequester cuts.
“In the absence of such an agreement, the Department of Defense budget will face an across-the-board reduction of $52 billion early next year,” Levin and Inhofe wrote in a May 2 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “Virtually every DoD witness who has come before the Armed Services Committee this year has testified that an additional round of sequestration in fiscal year 2014 would be devastating for the Department.
“Despite this testimony, many members of Congress and the public still seem to have the view that sequestration is an effective way to cut government spending and can be made workable simply by providing the Department with additional flexibility or making minor adjustments,” the senators wrote.
“We request that you provide us, by no later than July 1, 2013, a package of reductions to the fiscal year 2014 defense budget that you believe to be the most workable approach for meeting the $52 billion savings requirement established by the  Budget Control Act,” Levin and Inhofe told Hagel.
“We believe that the identification of these specific reductions will serve both to help Congress and the Department prepare for the possibility that we will be unable to avoid another round of sequestration and to show Congress and the public how unpalatable that outcome would be,” the duo wrote.
The SASC leaders told Hagel that “a concrete demonstration of the painful choices the Department would have to make to cut $52 billion from its budget may be our last, best hope of avoiding sequestration altogether.”