By Carlo Munoz and Jeremy Herb - 06/12/12 09:39 PM EDT
The Topline: It's been a tough budget season for the Pentagon. Defense Department number crunchers were handed the unceremonious task of assembling a fiscal 2013 spending package that would pay to end the decade-long war in Afghanistan, increase the military's presence in the Pacific and keep embattled programs like the Joint Strike Fighter and Littoral Combat Ship on time and on budget — or as close as they could to it. All this was done while waiting for the Sword of Damocles to fall on the department's head in the form of sequestration. They did the job, and top DOD and service officials dutifully marched up to Capitol Hill to defend the plan. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey will make one last trip to Congress to sell that plan.
A lot has changed since February, from the growing crisis in Syria to rising tensions between the Pentagon and Pakistan. But Wednesday's Senate Appropriations hearing will likely be driven by talk of sequestration. While many inside the Beltway are scrambling over how to prevent the $500 billion in cuts to defense, one lawmaker says the damage from sequestration is already being felt across the country.
Damage done: Lawmakers' hesitancy to address sequestration on Capitol Hill, combined with the Pentagon's refusal to plan for those looming cuts, has created a sense of uneasiness within the defense industry, and for those Americans who depend on defense for their livelihoods. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on Tuesday reiterated his argument that the shadow of sequester is already forcing defense firms to cut costs and trim the workforce, as no one knows what size or shape budget cuts under sequestration will take.
"Business folks have got to plan. Families have got to plan. And you can't plan if you don't know whether or not there's going to be contracts coming in January or not. And that uncertainty which is created by the threat, the prospect, the specter of sequestration, I believe, is a real threat to this economy," he told the audience during his speech at the National Press Club. "That's the greater challenge that we face, to see if we can't possibly reach the kind of compromise which we know will be there at the end, but to do it in time to avoid this kind of mindless and very dangerous weakening in the economy."
Partisan leaks: A dose of partisanship was added to the congressional outrage over the recent series of national security leaks on Tuesday, with charges of hypocrisy, double standards and crossing the line coming out of a Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General Eric Holder and Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) resolution calling for a special counsel. To recap: McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are charging that Senate Democrats — including President Obama and Vice President Biden — had called for a special counsel in the Abramoff case in 2006. Graham said Tuesday that Democrats would be “screaming” if the shoe were on the other foot, a statement that Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said was “over the line.”
It was a stark change from the joint press conference the House and Senate Intelligence committees held last Thursday, as they said they would work together for new leak laws, and it remains to be seen whether the partisanship will affect those efforts. As for the substance of Graham and McCain’s charges, DEFCON Hill wrote about Obama’s role reversal on the leaks investigation this past weekend.
Rumsfeld vs. Law of the Sea: Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is coming to Capitol Hill Thursday to bash the Law of the Sea Treaty, after the Obama administration made a renewed push for the long-stalled treaty. Rumsfeld is included in the second of two hearings the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding on the topic Thursday, testifying after Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Adm. James Winnefeld, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and other military officials who will lay out their support for the treaty in the morning. Check out the Hill’s Global Affairs for more about Rumsfeld’s opposition to Law of the Sea.
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