Pentagon budget planners are caught between a Republican rock and a Democrat hard place over their new military budget proposals, and appear doomed to be headed for a sequestration cliff.
While the Obama administration is set to propose a $534 billion defense budget, and congressional Republicans are likely to equal or exceed that, and the Pentagon plans to propose a $585 billion budget, the required sequester cap will force the Pentagon to undergo across-the-board cuts down to $499 billion, the limit imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, unless Congress acts to set aside sequester requirements, Politico notes.
Terming the proposals "budget theater," Politico comments that Democrats want to pay for the budget increase with higher taxes, which Republicans likely will block, while Republicans want to pay for it with domestic agency and entitlement cutbacks, which Democrats will resist.
This leaves Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, looking for enough congressional support to repeal the sequester and allow defense budget increases.
"I will say candidly that it is deeply frustrating that a hearing of this kind is still necessary," McCain told Politico, "and yet, here we go again.
"If we in Congress do not act, sequestration will return in full in fiscal year 2016, setting our military on a far more dangerous course."
When McCain opened his first committee hearing as chairman, he said, "We are on track to cut $1 trillion from defense budget by 2021" imperiling U.S. security, Stars and Stripes reported.
Retired Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser, testified, "It is a terrible way to determine force structure, strategy or anything like it. It is undermining our ability to do what we need to do to remain alert for the contingencies in the world."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., commented, "We don’t have a plan, but Sen. McCain, to his credit, is challenging some of us on the committee to find a plan. Mr. President, help us, because we can’t do this by ourselves," Politico reported.
"Now that Republicans control both the House and the Senate, there’ll be pressure for more defense spending as the U.S. battle against terrorism refocuses from the dwindling combat operations in Afghanistan to the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria," Politico reports.
"If nothing is done to stave off sequestration, defense spending
would be subject to an across-the-board cut at whatever amount exceeds the spending caps."
The concern is that the budget disagreement inevitably is headed for the brink of the sequester deadline, Roman Schweizer, Guggenheim Partners analyst, told Politico.
He warned "there will not be a quick resolution" on the budget and added, "The key wildcard remains whether the GOP Congress and White House can reach an agreement on lifting the FY16 cap on defense. This deal may not come together until the very end of the fiscal year."
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