Week ahead: Let the 2012 Pentagon budget fight begin

The 2013 budget is the first that will take into account $487 billion in defense cuts mandated over the next decade, a reduction that was included in the debt-limit deal reached last year.

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Obama unveiled the Pentagon’s new military strategy earlier this month, in a document that signaled a leaner force and a shift in focus to the Asia-Pacific region. But the strategy did not get into specifics, which Pentagon officials said would come after the budget was released.

Both the State of the Union and the 2013 budget announcement next week will help set the tone for the battle over Pentagon spending, which could reach a fever pitch by the end of 2012, when the $500 billion in sequestration cuts to defense spending is set to take effect.

Republican congressional aides told The Hill they hope Obama will express a willingness to fix the sequestration cuts during the State of the Union, at least for the 2013 budget.

Obama has threatened to veto any attempt to undo the sequestration cuts without finding another $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. The president and congressional Democrats say that must be done in a “balanced” way, which means including tax increases — something the GOP has rebuffed.

As for the 2013 budget — which will act as though the sequestration cuts don’t exist — some details have started to trickle out ahead of Panetta’s Thursday announcement. Bloomberg News reported the Pentagon will propose including a $6.8 billion Army missile program, a weather satellite and an Air Force light-attack aircraft among the list of weapons systems that will be cut.

With tensions between Iran and the United States remaining high, Obama is also expected to touch on the U.S. position toward Iran at the State of the Union. He’s received criticism from Republicans in Congress and in the presidential race for not being strong enough, so expect Obama to make the case that sanctions there are working, as he did at a fundraiser this week.

In Congress, the House Armed Services Committee is holding two hearings this week. On Monday, the committee will look at doing business with the Defense Department, and on Tuesday two DoD officials will testify on financial improvement and audit readiness. A House Veterans Affairs subcommittee will also hold a hearing Monday on the state of VA disability ratings in the 21st century.

Ahead of the 2013 budget release, there are two events on the future of the military, one academic and one with a partisan bent.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, is hosting an event on Obama and the 21st-century military on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the University of Maryland will have a discussion with Congressional Budget Office Assistant Director for National Security David Mosher on defense budgets “in a period of austerity.”