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Officials Reiterate Case against Sequestration

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  • January 5, 2012
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In outlining a new defense strategy designed to guide a $487 billion reduction in spending over the next 10 years, top Pentagon officials Thursday continued to make the argument that cuts of an additional $500 billion would jeopardize the military’s ability to protect critical national security interests.

“My view is that when members of Congress … see the magnitude of that task that we’ve had to undertake to meet the $487 billion target, you’ll understand why we give the harsh warnings we do about sequestration,” Ashton Carter, deputy secretary of defense, told reporters.

Carter was responding to a question as to whether the department’s strategic review and the long-term budget cuts it will produce will be sufficient to prompt Congress to undo the automatic spending cuts imposed by August’s budget agreement. The difficult choices the department is being forced to make to identify almost a half a trillion dollars in cuts should plainly make the case that additional cuts would be detrimental, he said.

“As the secretary said, we’re looking at things that we haven’t had to look at in this department for a decade. He’s made us put everything on the table and undergo a very thorough process. … So I think when you see what $489 billion is, people are going to easily understand why sequester would be so disastrous,” Carter stated.

Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, reinforced Carter’s point, noting that the new strategy entails some risks, but ones that are acceptable. “But I think there is a point at which if you went too far down the road of further cuts, that statement would no longer be true. And we would, frankly, have to go back to the drawing board to rethink our strategy anew in order to manage … additional reductions and additional risk,” she said.

Of course, congressional politics will play a dominant role in determining the fate of the $500 billion in automatic cuts now slated to take effect beginning in January 2013. Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst with the Brookings Institution, was somewhat pessimistic lawmakers would successfully reverse the cuts before 2013.

“I don’t think there’s a clear path ahead [in 2012] that eliminates sequestration,” O’Hanlon told Reuters. He added that the best chances for Congress to reach a deal would be after the November elections.

To read a transcript of the media roundtable with Carter, Flournoy and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld Jr., visit DOD’s website.

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