Little: DOD did the 'right thing' in sequestration fight with Congress

The Defense Department did "the right thing" in taking the fight to Congress over sequestration, despite the Pentagon's failure to prevent the massive, across-the-board budget cuts from going into place.

In his last briefing as the Pentagon's top spokesman, George Little was adamant the game of chicken the department and Obama administration played with Capitol Hill in the run up to sequestration was the right call. 

Little's last day at the Defense Department is Friday. 

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"The fact of the matter is, I think we've overall done precisely the right thing. We have talked about the prospective impacts of sequestration. We were very clear about that," Little said Tuesday.  

"We didn't shy away from discussing what we thought would be the downsides of this absurd mechanism that was designed to avoid absurdities," he told reporters at the Pentagon. 

The $500 billion in mandatory spending cuts under sequestration was part of a massive debt ceiling deal reached between the White House and Congress in 2011. 

Since then, the department and Obama administration were hammered by congressional Republicans over their refusal to account for sequestration in the Pentagon's fiscal year 2014 budget. 

The decision was seen by many on Capitol Hill as a pressure tactic by the White House, designed to force lawmakers to come up with a sequestration alternative. 

But the strategy ultimately failed to persuade the highly-partisan Congress to fix sequestration, which eventually went into effect in March, reducing Pentagon spending by $52 billion next year.

As a result, the department's fiscal year 2015 budget plan being drafted inside the Pentagon is the first spending blueprint that takes sequestration cuts into account. 

President Obama met 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 new budget plans under sequestration. 

The Pentagon has also changed its tone toward Congress heading into the FY '15 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 tact 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 said, Little pushed back against the notion the Pentagon's strategy to intentionally turn a blind eye toward sequestration, as a way to force lawmakers' hand was a failure. 

"I would take some issue with any suggestion that we somehow didn't plan for sequestration," he said. "The fact of the matter is, we did, and we implemented the plans." 

"We've been clear and straightforward with you and with the American people, with Congress, and we are still where we are," Little added. "But I think we've done it the right way."