‘Impossible’ to include sequester in 2014 defense budget, Dempsey says

“It would be literally impossible for us to have done,” Dempsey told reporters at a lunch hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “We would have to have done two budgets. And that’s not possible, particularly when you’ve got furloughs. There wasn’t a neglect — it was a practical matter of literally what was possible for us to ask the services to do.”

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The president’s 2014 budget didn’t ignore sequestration altogether. But its solution of averting the automatic budget cuts through a mix of tax increases and spending cuts is dead on arrival in the Republican-led House, and there’s little momentum right now for another solution to fix the cuts.

President Obama did not signal a lot of optimism for a solution at a press conference Tuesday.

“I think there’s a genuine desire on many of their parts to move past not only sequester but Washington dysfunction. Whether we can get it done or not, we’ll see,” he said.

Dempsey said that with the debt-ceiling fight looking to be pushed back until the fall, it doesn’t appear that there’s a force to get some kind of budget deal.

“It does now appear we will live with what we’re living with out into the fall,” he said.

Dempsey said that the Pentagon has not decided how it is going to address the 2014 budget being $52 billion above the sequester caps. He said a decision “hasn’t been made” whether to submit an alternate budget or work with Congress to make the cuts.

The Pentagon can make the cuts in a targeted fashion in 2014 if it chooses, but if the budget remains above the budget caps, the cuts would take place across the board.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others urged Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at a hearing earlier this month to detail where the $52 billion cut would come from. They argued that if the public and lawmakers knew what effect the reductions would have, there might be more political will to try and stop sequestration.

Congress did pass a fix to stop Federal Aviation Administration furloughs this week, which prompted McCain to blast lawmakers for fixing that but ignoring the cuts to the military.

The budgets passed by the House and Senate last month also did not take sequestration into account in 2014, setting defense spending at roughly the same level as the president’s request.