McKeon requests OMB chief testify on sequestration

In a letter sent to Zients on Wednesday, McKeon requested the OMB head testify at a planned House Armed Services Committee hearing on the impact of defense cuts under sequestration. 

"It is appropriate to provide information to members of Congress, industry and the public about the administration's interpretation of the law and how sequestration would be implemented," McKeon wrote. 

The sequestration hearing is scheduled for July 18. The White House response to McKeon's request is due to the committee by July 9, according to the letter. 

"We are reviewing his invitation," OMB spokesman Kenneth Baer said on Wednesday. He refused to comment on whether Zients would accept the offer. 

McKeon's official request came after the OMB chief rebuffed informal efforts last week by the California Republican to get him before the committee and explain the administration's position. 

The Defense Department is facing an across-the-board budget cut of roughly $500 billion over the next decade under what's known as sequestration. 

Those cuts, which are set to go into effect in January, were triggered after a bipartisan "super committee" failed to come up with a plan to cut $1.2 trillion from government accounts last year. 

Earlier this month, McKeon and other House Republicans slammed OMB for including the Pentagon's overseas contingency operations (OCO) accounts under sequestration. 

Combat operations in Afghanistan are financed almost exclusively by OCO accounts. 

McKeon and others, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), head of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, bashed the White House's decision to cut war funds, calling the move “morally unconscionable.”

In response, Zients said war funds had always been part of the sequestration plan despite claims by the Pentagon that those funds would be exempt. 

"The law does not grant the executive branch the flexibility to exempt [war funding] from sequestration," Zients wrote in a June 16 letter to McKeon. 

Zients also took his own shot at McKeon and other House Republicans in the letter noting that only Congress can stop sequestration from beginning in 2013. 

"Congress has time to act to avoid [sequestration] by passing balanced deficit reduction ... it was charged to undertake in the [Budget Control Act]," Zients said, referring to last year's debt reduction deal that spawned sequestration. 

"Should it get to a point where it appears Congress will not do its job ... let me assure you that OMB, DOD and the entire administration will be prepared," Zients wrote at the time.