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March 4, 2015 – The Hill, By Martin Matishak

Republicans and Democrats on a key House committee hold little hope that a deal will be struck to do away with spending caps that limit Defense Department spending.

A two-year deal that allowed the Pentagon to spend above those ceilings has expired, and the lawmakers said there appears to be little chance that a new deal will be struck.

“I completely agree that the BCA needs to be modified to avoid dramatic, immediate and long-term negative impacts on our military capabilities,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, referring to the 2011 Budget Control Act.

“But unless and until the law is changed, this committee has no choice but to draft our bill to comply with the BCA caps,” he added.

Rep. Pete Visclosky (Ind.), the panel’s top Democrat, said there are “insurmountable obstacles blocking every path forward” to reaching a deal that would solve sequestration, especially before appropriators start marking up their bills.

Congressional Republicans are expected to take up their budget resolutions later this month.

President Obama last month unveiled a spending plan that would bust through the spending ceilings, which were imposed as part of a 2011 deal and were intended to reduce the budget deficit.

He requested $561 billion for defense spending, including a $534 billion Pentagon base budget. That figure is $35 billion over the limits put in place by the 2011 budget deal.

New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that while he did not have a hand in crafting the budget request, he “strongly” supports the spending plan and doing away with the “artificial” caps imposed by sequestration.

“Sequester is purely the fallout of political gridlock,” he told the panel. “It’s purpose was to compel prudent compromise on our long-term fiscal challenges, a compromise that never came.”

He also took aim at lawmakers, saying that DOD’s bottom line has “suffered a double whammy, the worst of both worlds, that has coupled mindless sequestration with constraints on our ability to reform.”

Carter specifically pointed to the agency’s repeated attempts to hold another round of base closures to get rid of excess facilities and retire weapons systems.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, in what could be his last appearance before the subcommittee, urged lawmakers to help “settle down” the agency’s budget, adding “there is no slack left.”

“I’d like to have at least one variable in my life fixed,” he said. “We’re at the point where our national aspirations are at genuine risk of exceeding our resources.”

Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) implored Carter to “tear up” the existing budget request and give lawmakers something more realistic.

“I plead with you to say we can do this a different way,” she said. “Give us another way forward where we really can prepare for the future.”

The new Pentagon chief asked lawmakers to “embrace the alternative” to sequester with a spending plan that would underwrite his agency’s strategies on multiple fronts.

Few on the panel suggested a solution would be reached in time.

“I hope the miracle occurs but, as my dad used to say, ‘Hope is not a planning option,’” said Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.).

 

The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.

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