Top Armed Services Democrat: Don’t Bet on Sequestration Going Away

The Air Force's A-10 fleet is being retired under the fiscal 2015 budget request. The Air Force's A-10 fleet is being retired under the fiscal 2015 budget request. Defense Department file photo

The Obama administration is submitting a five-year budget that largely ignores sequester budget caps, but the House Armed Services Committee ranking member said the lower spending levels are likely here to stay.

"I think if you had to bet, you would bet that sequestration is going to stick around," said Washington Democrat Adam Smith, adding that leadership doesn't have the votes to undo the budget caps.

Smith and Republican Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia, a contender to lead the Armed Services Committee, appeared on Defense News, which aired Sunday.

The Pentagon's fiscal 2015 budget and five-year budget plan are being released Tuesday. The five-year plan is expected to break congressional budget caps by $115 billion. And though Defense Department officials said they created a five-year plan that sticks to sequester-level spending requirements, the full plan isn't expected to be released to Congress.

And Forbes, who voted against the 2011 Budget Control Act, shifted the blame for the cuts away from Congress, saying, "It's the fifth year in a row they've rolled out cuts from this administration."

"This administration, when they first started down this cut road … when Secretary [Robert] Gates came out with these efficiencies, Congress wasn't mandating that," Forbes said.

In 2010, Gates outlined approximately $100 billion in Pentagon savings over five years. In the same year, the Sustainable Defense Task Force, which was called for by then-Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., identified approximately $960 billion in savings that could be made over 10 years.

Forbes added that he believes the current cuts are the "wrong direction" and members should "be very careful" when making decisions about the fiscal 2015 budget.

But the administration's budget for the upcoming fiscal year sticks to the spending caps Congress passed after the December budget agreement. And Smith said Congress won't raise the approximately $496 billion baseline spending cap.

To stay within the caps, Defense officials are proposing a wide array of cuts, many of which will face an uphill fight on the Hill.

"At this point, you've seen opposition to just about every cut…. The better question is which of these cuts is going to get congressional support," Smith said, adding that he is in favor of many of the cuts— including BRAC, which most oppose.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel previewed the Pentagon's soon-to-be-released budget request last week, with top officials appearing across Washington to try to get out ahead of Congress and shape the narrative of what will likely be a contentious budget battle over a request that includes base closures, a push to get rid of the A-10, and requested changes to pay and health care.

Forbes and Smith agreed that the personnel cuts face an almost impossible congressional climate, with Smith noting that members went "ballistic" over a recent 1 percent decrease in the cost-of-living adjustment for working-age military retirees.

Forbes compared trying to make changes to the growing military personnel costs before the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission releases its report, to a "surgeon saying we're going to operate before we get all your tests back." But the commission's report isn't scheduled to be given to Congress until 2015, well after the Oct. 1 start date of the 2015 fiscal year.

But the Pentagon could get a budget boost, with officials bringing back the "wish list" of unfunded priorities. Forbes blamed the administration for shutting down the list under Gates.

"I think it's important we have that. We need to know what they need and what we didn't fund," Forbes said.

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