OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Pentagon releases 2015 budget

The Topline: The Pentagon started off the 2015 budget season Tuesday with a $496 billion budget that’s sure to face a chorus of critics on Capitol Hill.

President Obama’s 2015 defense budget proposal includes cuts to the Army that angered GOP hawks, cuts to pay and benefits that angered veterans groups and cuts to the A-10 fleet that angered Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and other “Warthog” backers.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Pentagon rolled out the 2015 budget request on Tuesday along with the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), and defense officials defended both as the best way forwarded in an era of constrained defense budgets.

The $496 billion budget was effectively flat compared to the Pentagon’s spending levels enacted in 2014.

Within the budget, the Pentagon cut procurement by $2 billion while boosting research and development funds by $700 million. The budget included an additional $5.9 billion in operation and maintenance dollars compared to 2014, while it cut personnel costs by $700 million.

The budget did not lay out funding for Overseas Contingency Operations, instead proposing a $79.4 billion placeholder until the situation in Afghanistan for 2015 is more clear.

The Pentagon’s budget proposal, of course, will face changes from Congress.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey will hear from lawmakers starting Wednesday when they testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

They’re sure to face pointed questions on a range of topics, as well as resistance from Congress on base closures, healthcare fee increases and housing subsidy cuts and the A-10 cuts.

Looming over the 2015 budget discussion is sequestration, which comes back in full starting in 2016.

The Pentagon’s budget busts the sequester caps beginning in 2016, and Pentagon leaders warned in the QDR that their military strategy is at risk if sequester is not reversed.

Congress, of course, had a hard time replacing some of the sequester last year, and doing it once again this year will be difficult, especially in an election year.

“Right now looking forward I don’t see any possibility of overturning it,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said last week.

McKeon wants QDR do-over: McKeon was not satisfied with the Pentagon’s QDR that was released Tuesday and is calling on the Pentagon to re-write the strategy document.

In a statement, McKeon said he was rejecting the submission because it defied the law as a budget-driven document.

“In defiance of the law, this QDR provides no insight into what a moderate-to-low risk strategy would be, is clearly budget driven, and is shortsighted,” said McKeon, who is retiring at the end of 2014. “It allows the President to duck the consequences of the deep defense cuts he has advocated and leaves us all wondering what the true future costs of those cuts will be.”

Hagel, however, disagreed with McKeon’s assessment and defended the budget constraints that were included in the QDR.

“It would be dishonest and irresponsible to present a QDR articulating a strategy disconnected from the reality of resource constraints,” Hagel said in a statement. “A strategy must have the resources for its implementation."

Expect the QDR to be one of the first things McKeon brings up at Thursday’s committee hearing with Hagel and Dempsey.

Air Force moving forward with rescue helicopter: The best budget news for Sikorsky Tuesday wasn’t in the 2015 budget.

While there was no funding in 2015 for the Air Force’s Combat Rescue Helicopter, Air Force officials said they had made the decision to fund the program, which had been threatened by budget cuts.

Maj. Gen. Jim Martin, the Air Force budget director, told reporters Tuesday that the contract would be awarded for the program later this year.

“In FY15, there is no money in the budget, but there's enough money in FY14 that will allow us to carry us through FY15,” Martin said.

That contract will go to Sikorsky, the United Technologies subsidiary that was the sole bidder on the program.

Rep. Rosa Delauro (D-Conn.), who has pressed the Air Force on the program, praised the service for moving forward on the contract.

She noted the manufacturing would provide a boost to her state’s economy, as Sikorsky is headquartered in Stratford, Conn.

Russian missile launch ‘routine’: The U.S. played down a Russian launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday as the two sides face off over a crisis in Ukraine. 

"This was a previously notified and routine test launch of an ICBM,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. 

“As required under the New START Treaty, Russia provided advance notification of this launch to the United States,” she said. 

“Such advance notifications are intended to provide transparency, confidence, and predictability and to help both sides avoid misunderstandings. Russia and the United States routinely flight test their ICBMs and SLBMs.”

The launch comes at a tense time, just days after Russian forces took over military installations in Crimea following a revolution in Ukraine. 

The RS-12M missile was fired from Russia’s southerly Astrakhan region, just 280 miles east of the Ukrainian border, and hit its target in Kazakhstan, Reuters reported. 

 

In Case You Missed It:

— Obama budget carves out $1.5 billion for Syria

— Group slams Pentagon request for more wartime funds

— Pentagon planning to cut 6,300 civilians in 2015

— Putin asserts Russia's right to use force in eastern Ukraine

— Menendez: Putin 'only understands strength'

 

Please send tips and comments to Jeremy Herb, jherb@thehill.com, and Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @DEFCONHill, @JHerbTheHill, @kristina_wong

You can sign up to receive this overnight update via email on The Hill’s homepage.