Sequestration looms large over Dempsey confirmation hearing

The automatic budget cuts under sequestration loomed large over Dempsey’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, whose members are the biggest proponents in the Senate of reversing the defense cuts.

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Defense-minded lawmakers want to reverse sequestration and have used the warnings from Dempsey and other Pentagon leaders to make their case that the defense cuts must be averted.

But the defense cuts have remained because Democrats and Republicans have been unable to solve the broader fiscal issues on entitlement spending and taxes.

For Republicans on the panel Thursday, Dempsey’s comments were an indictment of President Obama’s policy toward sequestration.

“General Dempsey, at what point will you advise [Obama] that the defense cuts imposed will result in the dire scenario you laid out before our committee in February that ‘if ever the force is so degraded and so unready, and then we’re asked to use it, it would be immoral,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the committee.

“When will the commander in chief be at the point of making immoral decisions?” Inhofe later asked Dempsey and Vice Adm. James Winnefeld.

Dempsey stayed out of the long-running political fight between Obama and Republicans over who’s to blame for sequestration.

“If the nation is threatened, we’ll go,” Dempsey said. “That’s the point: We’ll go, and we may not be ready to go.”

The Pentagon’s $526.6 billion 2014 base budget request is facing a $52 billion cut under sequestration. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent a letter to the panel last week that laid out the damage the cuts would cause, warning they would risk an unfit fighting force

But Inhofe criticized the letter Wednesday, saying it was “woefully light on details.”

In his questions, Inhofe asks Dempsey whether the general had told Obama about the danger of sequestration to the military.

“He knows this?” Inhofe asked.

“Yes sir,” Dempsey responded.

“Yet he continues with his approach,” Inhofe said.

To Democrats, it is Congress that needs to move to fix the sequester, not the Obama administration. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has said that he asked for the sequester report on 2014 in order to help his colleagues understand the danger.

“Lastly — but far from least-ly — we must confront the growing challenges of sequestration,” Levin said in his opening statement Thursday.