By Jeremy Herb
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday pushed back on accusations that he is on a mission to gut the Pentagon’s budget.
Hagel defended the Pentagon’s plans to deal with sequestration at a House Armed Services hearing Thursday, saying that he had to tackle the reality of the across-the-board cuts.
"The president did not instruct me when he asked me to consider doing this job ... to go over and cut the heart out of the Pentagon,” Hagel told the panel. “That wasn’t his instruction to me, nor any implication in any way.”
Republicans have criticized the 2014 defense budget for reducing budgets by roughly $100 billion over the next decade, a number smaller than the $500 billion that could be cut under sequestration.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) questioned Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey on Thursday over his past statements that the Pentagon could not handle any more spending reductions, given that the new budget includes more than $100 billion in cuts.
Dempsey stood by his comments, arguing that the 2014 budget figures are roughly the same as last year’s request because most of the cuts are backloaded and don’t hit until five years.
Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said the notion from Republicans that money could not be cut from the defense budget was “ridiculous.”
“Clearly, we can cut money from the defense budget that does not harm national security,” Smith said, citing efficiencies, base closures and increases to healthcare fees.
McKeon said that savings can be found all across the government, but said that defense should not be cut further when half of the savings achieved in recent years have come from the Pentagon.
Hagel's response to the cuts under sequestration was a departure from his predecessor, Leon Panetta. He described the belt-tightening as a reality he must deal with.
“What we’re dealing with in sequestration is the law,” Hagel said. “It is not debatable for me.”