Hagel backs budget deal

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Pentagon leaders are on board with the congressional budget deal.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that he was pleased Congress had come together on a deal that reduces the impact of sequestration and gives the Pentagon more certainty on the budget, though some veterans groups were less enthused.

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“While this agreement doesn't solve every budget problem facing the Department of Defense, it will help address our military readiness challenge by restoring funding for training and procurement — especially in fiscal year 2014,” Hagel said.

The agreement struck by House and Senate budget committee leaders would provide the Pentagon with $22 billion in sequester relief for 2014 and another $9 billion the following year.

The deal puts Defense spending at $520 billion in 2014, which is still more than $30 billion below the Pentagon’s proposed 2014 budget.

Hagel said that “tough decisions will still be necessary," and that the department will still need more budget flexibility.

“We will continue to look to Congress as a vital partner in our efforts to realign priorities and address needed reforms in areas like military compensation in order to maximize our military's fighting strength,” he said.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey also expressed his support for the agreement.

“I support the legislative proposal, as I understand it, which provides relief to the immediate and urgent readiness problems we face,” Dempsey told The Associated Press.

"I hope this is the beginning of a conversation on the longer-term challenge to the capability and capacity of our force that is developing over time because of sequestration,” he said.

Pentagon leaders have long warned that the sequester will have a devastating impact on the military in 2014, risking a hollow force that’s unfit to fight. The added defense dollars would help the military restore funding to its depleted readiness accounts.

But the budget deal is paid for in part by cutting military retirement benefits. Working-age retirees under age 62 would see lower cost-of-living adjustment increases.

Military retirement benefits contribute $6 billion in savings in the deal.

The agreement has been slammed by veterans and service organization groups who say that military retirees should not be targeted for further cuts.