Defense budget may be delayed due to 'cliff'

The Pentagon could postpone delivery of the department's fiscal 2014 budget to Congress, which could arrive on Capitol Hill as late as March, as DOD and White House officials try to cope with the fallout from the recent "fiscal cliff" deal.

Pentagon leaders were "not ruling out" delaying their FY14 budget past the initial February deadline, DOD press secretary George Little told reporters on Thursday.

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"We need to define a timeline in the coming weeks," Little said, noting that DOD budget officials were working "aggressively" with members of the White House's Office of Management and Budget to lock in that time line.

"This is a real problem and we do not have a rational process to follow," Little said regarding a potential delay. "We need to get beyond this."

It remains unclear whether DOD's efforts are indicative of similar plans being considered by other federal agencies, whose budgets are also due to Congress in February.

However, OMB officials told The Hill on Thursday that "no decisions on budget timing have been made." White House officials have yet to send over any official guidance to DOD regarding a possible delay, Little added.

One option DOD is reportedly considering is to hand in the FY14 budget plan in March, which is when lawmakers are scheduled to restart negotiations on how to avoid the massive, automatic defense budget cuts under the administration's sequestration plan.

Little declined to speculate on whether a budget delay could go past March, but noted department officials could still have the budget plan ready in time for the February deadline.

The across-the-board cuts were supposed to go into place this month. But the reductions were delayed until March, as part of a Senate-crafted fiscal-cliff compromise passed by Congress on New Year's Day.

President Obama signed the deal, dubbed the American Taxpayer Relief Act, into law on Wednesday.

In the wake of that deal, DOD officials are "entering a phase of serious planning" to include the potential financial impacts of sequester into its FY14 budget plan, according to Little.

On Wednesday, he told reporters that Pentagon budget leaders were in the midst of reworking that spending plan to account for sequestration. But with less than a month before the plan is due to Congress, DOD and administration officials have been forced to seriously consider delaying it.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top department officials have been in contact with senior House and Senate defense lawmakers in recent weeks, in an attempt to prod Congress to come up with a viable sequestration alternative by March.

"We have not avoided the fiscal cliff," Little said. "We just need to get past [this]. It's time."

If Congress cannot come up with a plan to avoid sequestration in March, DOD will be hit with $52.3 billion in automatic spending cuts in the next fiscal year, Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins told The Hill last Friday. More than $500 billion in cuts to the Pentagon would be made over the next 10 years.



Erik Wasson contributed