Obama, Hagel hold defense budget talks at White House

President Obama will meet with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey on Tuesday at the White House, to discuss the Pentagon's budget plans under sequestration. 

Hagel and Dempsey met with top service leaders for several hours inside the Pentagon on Tuesday, in preparation for the meeting with Obama, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little. 

Little declined to comment on what specific budget issues Obama, Hagel and Dempsey were planning to tee up during the White House powwow. 

But specifics on how the Defense Department will build its future budget blueprints, beginning with the fiscal year 2015 plan, will be "one of the top issues they will deal with today," Little told reporters at the Pentagon. 

The fiscal 2015 budget plan will be the department's first spending roadmap with sequestration cuts factored in. 

Under sequestration, the Pentagon is staring down $500 billion in mandatory spending cuts. The cuts began in March and would reduce Pentagon spending by $52 billion next year.

The FY15 plan will also coincide with the department's Quadrennial Defense Review, which this year will provide the overarching strategy for the U.S. military after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Hagel and other top Pentagon officials in recent weeks have already dropped inklings on what that FY15 plan will look like. 

In October, Hagel told reporters department's strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific region remains "at the top of the list" of Pentagon priorities heading into FY15. 

While sequestration has left the Pentagon with a series of difficult decisions, its intent to follow through on its Asia blueprint will likely mean continued investment in current and future big-ticket weapon systems. 

The Asia-Pacific strategy will require continued funding of weapons programs like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Littoral Combat Ship and the new Ford-class aircraft carrier. 

Aside from that investment, the Pentagon has changed its tone toward Congress heading into the budget debate. 

"We [need] Congress as a willing partner in making tough choices ... while meeting our responsibilities to our people," Hagel said during a recent speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. 

That partnership means lawmakers will have to weigh in on several hot-button defense spending issues, from "meaningful reform" to military pensions and benefits to acquiescing on Capitol Hill's long-standing opposition to military base closures and cancellations of prized weapon systems, Hagel said at the time. 

Those comments represent a new tack by the Pentagon to persuade lawmakers to work with the department to cope with the effects of sequestration, rather than force Congress to come up with a viable alternative to the budget cuts. 

That change was prompted by lawmakers' inability to reach a sequestration deal, despite months of harsh warnings and dire predictions on the on the devastating effects of sequestration by the White House and Pentagon. 

But that has not stopped members of Congress from sounding the alarm on sequestration. 

On Thursday, the Pentagon provide a classified briefing on the potential national security risks facing the United States due to sequestration. 

House Armed Services Commitee member Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) demanded the hearing in a letter to House leadership last month. 

In a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Forbes said the classified briefing would inform "members of this body ... [on] the full impact that cuts to our national defense will have on the security" of the United States. 

"If the raw facts about the imminent and dangerous fissures in our nation’s ability to protect its citizens did not create pause in members of Congress, I’m not sure what would," Forbes told The Hill at the time. 

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