Amid showdown on Defense budget, sequester prospect worsens

During a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute earlier this week, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter appeared to have House Armed Services Committee Republicans in his cross-hairs. Carter said the decision to include $4 billion above the White House budget request in the House version of the Defense appropriations bill meant that new technology and innovation would be sacrificed in favor of aging programs and excess equipment.

“I just want to say that every dollar the United States spends on old and unnecessary programs is a dollar we lose from new, necessary strategic investments,??? Carter said on Wednesday. “As Secretary Panetta has said, if we had an open bank account, we’d keep all of it, but we don’t have an open bank account.???

Items that should have been left on the chopping block, according to Carter: older Navy ships that had been earmarked for retirement, portions of the nation’s fleet of C-130 Hercules planes, and other Air Force elements. Carter also spoke disapprovingly of the committee’s decision to take the possibility of Base Realignment and Closure off the table and to walk back proposed fee increases to Tricare, the entity that provides health care to troops and veterans.

“No sacred cows,??? was the principle in play, as Defense officials crafted a budget with tight fiscal parameters, according to Carter.

“Others can pick one item or another that they favor, but we have to balance them all,??? he said.

It’s not a perspective that House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) can appreciate.

A day after Carter’s speech, McKeon took aim at those same “balance??? decisions, telling members of the National Defense Industrial Association
How does the president plan to keep faith with our troops when he proposed to dramatically increase Tricare fees on military retirees, and create whole new fees???? McKeon said, according to remarks obtained by Politico’s Morning Defense. “The president’s vision of an “American Century??? is hollow, dangerous, and takes for granted the military strength and power required to protect the homeland, assure our allies, and keep our enemies at bay.???

The White House has threatened to veto the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act, because, among other reasons, of the added $4 billion in funding and various attempts to override decisions made by the administration. Notably, Obama’s Defense budget request also came in about $4 billion over limits set by Congress with the Budget Control Act last year.

With the final terms of the 2013 National Defense Appropriations Act to be determined in conference between the House and Senate following Senate approval of its version of the bill, rhetoric is also heating up regarding the process of sequestration.

Pentagon officials confirmed to various media outlets this week that the budget-slashing mechanism set to take effect on the first of next year would not spare funding for ongoing combat operations in Afghanistan, as had been previously believed.

What remains unclear is how the sequester, which purports to cut Defense spending by 10 percent across the board over the next decade, will affect the war effort and provisions for the thousands of troops that remain deployed there.

“The time for guarded language is past,??? McKeon fumed at the NDIA event. “(Sequestration) will do what countless tin pot dictators, ideological madmen, and ruthless suicide bombers have failed to do; sequestration will limit the United States’ power and influence in the world.???

At least here, the committee chairman and Deputy Secretary of Defense have common ground: Carter called the sequester an “awful prospect??? and said that military and civilian program managers would face “absurdities??? in trying to implement the doomsday measure.