With lawmakers facing the challenge of current and future cuts to defense spending, CQ reports that distinct paths became apparent during the confirmation hearing for Ashton Carter on Tuesday. While Democrats are trying to identify cuts that can be proposed, Republicans are focused on preventing the cutbacks from going any deeper.
During the confirmation hearing Tuesday, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich. told Ashton B. Carter, the Pentagon’s current acquisition chief, that DoD input is needed as lawmakers consider over the coming months how much to trim and where. Carter has been nominated to be the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the military’s No. 2 civilian officer.
Levin stated that the Pentagon must give his committee recommendations on spending reductions that the panel can report by mid-October to the Joint Select Deficit Reduction Committee. Levin said the deficit committee could recommend additional cuts.
But, the more draconian cuts are possible under a sequestration process if deficit reduction recommendations from the new joint committee are not enacted later this year.
Some Republicans, including Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, who serves on the deficit panel, have vowed to oppose any defense reductions beyond those imposed by the already enacted spending caps. Kyl said last week he would be “off” the panel if it recommends more defense cuts.
A long stalwart for the military, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) shared his concern about cuts, “Do not misunderstand me. Real defense cuts are coming. And for that reason it’s now more essential than ever for the Department of Defense to efficiently manage the taxpayer’s money. And I will be blunt. This will require not just good leadership, it will require a change in culture at the Defense Department.”
Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions suggested that some of the future reductions could be absorbed by reducing the U.S. military footprint in Europe. Levin also saw overseas bases as opportunities for savings. “For our economy, it’s better for those troops to be in the United States spending their wealth and creating tax growth for the local communities and jobs,” Sessions said.
Carter said the Defense Department is working to include planned reductions over 10 years in the budget process for fiscal years 2013 through 2017.
“I believe the department can build a balanced defense program that also achieves the national security reductions enacted as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011,” Carter said in his advance written responses. “These reductions are in line with what the department was anticipating at a time of considerable fiscal challenge. However, making these reductions will require difficult choices by the department and the Congress. “Any further reductions that may result from a failure of the joint committee to reach agreement will undermine our ability to meet our national security objectives.”
Carter said the Pentagon will soon send recommendations to the Armed Services panel for how it could close its $20 billion budget gap between the authorization bill (S 1253) and the fiscal 2012 base defense spending measure marked up Tuesday by the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.