Rep. McKeon says Obama’s budget chief won’t commit to testify on defense cuts

House Armed Service Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) on Friday said President Obama's budget director won't commit to testify about the impact of sequestration.

McKeon said he was "disappointed" that Jeffrey Zients, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), wouldn't appear before Armed Services to discuss the automatic budget cuts that are set to begin in 2013.

McKeon called the OMB chief Friday in the midst of a push to have the Obama administration and the Pentagon explain how the $500 billion in cuts to the Defense Department would be implemented.

McKeon told reporters Thursday that he wanted to hold hearings where the OMB director testified on the impact of sequestration.

But in their phone conversation, Zients would apparently not commit to that, according to McKeon spokesman Claude Chafin.

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“The chairman is disappointed with OMB’s position,” Chafin said in an e-mail. “After nearly a year they should be prepared to report to Congress on how they will handle sequestration.”

OMB spokesman Kenneth Baer said the department does not comment on private phone conversations.

Republicans have pressed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to lay out the impact of the sequestration cuts, which would hit across-the-board at about $50 billion per year for the next decade.

Panetta and other Pentagon officials have insisted they are not planning for sequestration because OMB has not instructed them to do so. 

OMB officials have said that they do not expect sequestration to occur, and noted that the Obama administration has called on Congress to reverse the automatic cuts.

But there is a growing push for an explanation of what sequestration would entail, with some hoping that the information would help boost public support to reverse the cuts.

This week the Senate included in the farm bill a bipartisan amendment requiring reports from the Pentagon, OMB and the White House to explain the impact of both the defense and non-defense cuts.

Chafin said that McKeon supported the spirit of the measure.

The defense industry is lobbying to do away with the cuts, releasing several studies suggesting 1 million jobs could be lost.

Lockheed Martin CEO Bob Stevens, who is leaving at the end of the year, said this week that companies were in a “fog of uncertainty” not knowing about the cuts. He warned that Lockheed might send layoff notices to all of its employees due to sequestration, which would be sent out just days before the election.

Both Republicans and Democrats want to undo the across-the-board sequestration cuts, but the two sides disagree on how to find the alternative deficit reduction to replace them.

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