Pentagon: Budget cuts threaten U.S. defense strategy

Defense leaders said Wednesday if lawmakers do not undo defense budget caps known as sequestration, the U.S. would not be able to implement its defense strategy. 

While the Pentagon’s 2015 $496 billion defense budget request meets budget caps for 2015, future projected spending would be $115 billion beyond budget caps over the next five years, which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said was necessary to implement the nation’s defense strategy.

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“It is a plan that allows our military to meet America’s future challenges and threats. It matches our resources to our strategy,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Hagel said the 2015 budget request was tied to the updated defense strategy articulated in the Quadrennial Defense Review: defending the homeland, building security globally, deterring aggression and being ready and capable to win decisively against any adversary.

If sequestration is not undone by lawmakers for 2016, the alternative would be the inability to fulfill these obligations, Hagel said. 

“The result of sequestration-level cuts would be a military that could not fulfill its defense strategy, putting at risk America’s traditional role as a guarantor of global security — and, ultimately, our own security,” he said. 

Even with $496 billion in 2015, there is still a higher risk to troop lives, Hagel said. In order to mitigate that risk, lawmakers should approve a $26 billion "Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative" fund proposed by the White House that would help to buy back things cut under budget cuts in previous years, Hagel said. 

Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale said a line-item list for things that would be bought with the $26 billion fund would be made available to lawmakers next week.

House Republican leaders have cast doubt that Congress can undo sequestration — a result of lawmakers failing to agree on how to reduce a $1 trillion budget cap over the next decade, but Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he was hopeful. 

"I have not given up hope that we can, on a bipartisan basis, come to an agreement that will provide more adequate funding to meet our national security and other vital priorities," he said. 

Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said President Obama could avoid making the defense cuts by lowering domestic spending instead.  

“It’s still disproportionate — domestic versus military,” he said.