DOD to offer sneak peek at budget

Senior Pentagon officials are likely to give lawmakers an early peek at the military’s 2013 budget plan in an attempt to control the political backlash over the spending cuts it contains, Defense sources told The Hill.

Officials are likely to brief key lawmakers before February about a soup-to-nuts strategy review and the shrunken 2013 spending plan, sources said.

The early briefing was a tactic used infamously in 2009 by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates to minimize the fallout from a budget that terminated or made significant changes to around 50 weapons programs. 

Officials are eyeing the Gates model because the 2013 budget plan will be the first that includes the $350 billion in cuts called for under the August debt deal. The Pentagon says that will translate into a real-world cut of $460 billion from planned spending.

The cut for 2013 is expected to be around $25 billion, which will rile pro-military lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. 

Congress typically keeps a light schedule in January, a pattern that will continue next year. Members will be out of Washington for much of the month, and preoccupied with legislative business during the brief stretches when they are in session.

“There is nothing that keeps Congress — no matter how angry [lawmakers] are over cuts — from recess,” the source said. “And other than a few things like committee assignments, Congress doesn’t do much — and isn’t in town that much — in January.”

Defense sources said Congress could be briefed about the findings of the review in December. A senior House aide said the Pentagon has signaled it will happen in January.

“The sooner the better,” the aide said.

The envisioned process could include a public preview of the next Defense budget blueprint in January, several weeks before the Pentagon is slated to formally submit it to Congress, sources said, citing meetings with senior DOD officials.

A Pentagon spokesman did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The coming spending blueprint will feature a five-year spending plan that will contain $260 billion in cuts spread over that span, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters Nov. 11. Cuts to Defense spending are expected to be an issue in the 2012 campaign, with Republicans ready to hammer President Obama and congressional Democrats as weak on national security issues.

A Defense source said DOD officials have indicated that the lone new hardware program that will be fully funded in the 2013 budget plan will be an Air Force bomber. The service expects to buy 80 to 100 new flying bomb-droppers to replace its aging fleet.

But that plan, and others that call for new nuclear-armed submarines and combat vehicles, could take the fall if the Pentagon is forced to cut $600 billion more through a process called sequester. Congress has until late next year to void those cuts. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump’s danger on North Korea? Raised expectations Graham: If you don't like me working with Trump, 'I don't give a s--t' Dems seek to leverage ObamaCare fight for midterms MORE (R-S.C.) and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said they are planning legislation that would do just that.

“The president will probably exercise his option under the law to exempt military personnel from the cuts, meaning reductions would fall disproportionately on investment and readiness accounts,” said another Defense insider, Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute.

“The issue here, therefore, isn’t whether there will be any new starts,” Thompson said. “The issue is how the current modernization plan can possibly be kept on track with technology accounts being slashed 15 [percent] to 20 percent over a two-year period.”

Defense sources said two areas that will see increased funding are tools for cyberoperations and platforms that collect intelligence.