Sources: Lawmakers would 'fight it out' each year over Defense budget cuts

The debt-reduction deal hammered out by senior lawmakers and the White House would not etch in stone firm Pentagon budget-reduction targets, making likely bitter political fights each year.

"They'll fight it out year by year," one senior congressional source told The Hill on Monday, referring to congressional appropriators and leaders.

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Republicans, especially in the House, oppose big military funding reductions; Democrats, meanwhile, are open to sizable cuts — meaning fireworks are almost inevitable.

"Appropriators will determine each year how money is allocated under the cap," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in reference to a $684 billion limit for spending by all security agencies, including the Department of Defense, the compromise bill would put in place.

A House Appropriations source confirmed "there is no specific DOD-only number in the bill for any year, and not for the 10-year span."

The negotiators set up spending categories for 2012 and 2013 for "security" agencies and "non-security," meaning other federal entities and expenditures. The former includes DOD, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and others.

The compromise debt bill would leave it up to congressional leaders and appropriators to determine exact funding amounts for each agency within the 2012 and 2013 caps, several Hill sources said. The same would go for future DoD and security agency reductions, they noted.

The agencies in that security group would get about $684 billion in 2012. That would amount to "about $4.5 billion total less than [fiscal 2011]," the House Appropriations source said via email.

That means the Defense Department likely would take a hit, but so would its security agency brethren.

While the deal does not specify how much from the Pentagon budget would be cut over the next decade, the White House said the compromise plan would lead to $350 billion in savings over that span.

"The deal puts us on track to cut $350 billion from the defense budget over 10 years," according to White House fact sheet. "These reductions will be implemented based on the outcome of a review of our missions, roles, and capabilities that will reflect the President’s commitment to protecting our national security."

That strategy review was ordered months ago when the White House called for $400 billion in national security cuts.  For the moment, sources said that figure has been replaced by the $350 billion figure — but the second phase of the debt-reduction plan likely will bring more military cuts.

The House has already approved $544 billion in annual Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs spending for 2012, $9 billion below the Obama administration's request. The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to act on a Pentagon spending measure.

Boehner reportedly pushed hard Sunday evening to reduce the final plan's impact on future Defense and security budgets.

Defense and industry officials were bracing for cuts over a decade as large as $800 billion.

With 2012 and 2013 funding levels now more clear, their attention will shift to a so-called "super committee" of House and Senate members who would be charged with fashioning a long-term debt-relief plan. If it fails to complete that work, triggers would kick in that include big annual Pentagon cuts.

A bloc of pro-Defense GOP House members who usually are Boehner loyalists have been warning against big Defense cuts.

The group says a war-worn U.S. military needs to stay at or above current spending levels to fix and replace worn equipment, as well as to develop and buy new platforms as potential foes like China field more sophisticated weapons.

The bloc is led by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.).

It remains unclear how members of this bloc would vote on the final deal, but it is closely linked to a conservative group that announced its opposition to the debt compromise in a blast email Monday morning.

"The deal relies on an insufficient level of cuts, a 'super committee' tasked with brokering a grand bargain that will lead to massive tax hikes, massive defense cuts, or both," wrote Heritage Action for America, the political wing of the Heritage Foundation. "It remains insufficient to the task at hand and the standards which Heritage Action for America has set forth during the course of the debate."

Updated at 5:07 p.m.