Senators to Pentagon: No troop cuts until Congress gets a say in budget

The leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee are warning the Pentagon: Don’t make any sudden moves without consulting us first.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Monday urging the Pentagon not to reduce forces until the congressional committees have authorized the 2013 Defense budget.

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The senators wrote “it has become clear” that the Pentagon plans to start making moves for the 2013 budget in the current fiscal year, before the congressional committees have been able to tackle the 2013 Defense budget request.

“We request that you not take actions to implement decisions that would be difficult or impossible to reverse by anticipating congressional approval of what may turn out to be very contentious proposals before the committees have had an opportunity to produce bills reflecting their responses to the fiscal year 2013 budget request,” the senators wrote.

The 2013 Defense budget was the first request that included a $487 billion Pentagon budget cut over the next decade. In addition to numerous weapons programs that were axed or delayed and a round of base closures that have been decried by Congress, the budget plan calls for reducing 100,000 troops over the next five years.

Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey have testified before five congressional committees in the past month defending the budget request as the most responsible way to accomplish the necessary budget savings. They say the troop reductions are natural after the wars wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and say that the reductions will not hollow out the force.

But McCain and Levin warned that actions the Pentagon takes now could restrict Congress’s ability to change the 2013 budget.

“While we understand that doing so may help the Department achieve more ‘savings’ than might be otherwise realized,” the senators wrote, “the Department should avoid taking actions that would restrict Congress' ability to consider and act on the fiscal year 2013 budget request.”

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