Obama exempts all military personnel from sequestration cuts

President Obama will exempt all military personnel accounts from the $500 billion in defense cuts under sequestration, the Obama administration said in a letter to Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients told Congress the president is exercising his authority in the Budget Control Act to exempt military personnel from the 10-year sequestration cuts, according to the letter obtained by The Hill.

The decision to exempt personnel will place further strain on the budget accounts that defense contractors rely on for weapons programs, should the automatic spending cuts occur.

“This is considered to be in the national interest to safeguard the resources necessary to compensate the men and women serving to defend our nation and to maintain the force levels required for national security,” Zients wrote in the letters to House Speaker John Boehner and Vice President Biden, who is also president of the Senate.

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“It is recognized that this action would increase the sequester in other defense programs,” Zients said.

The decision to exempt military personnel accounts is the first major move the Obama administration has made toward implementing the sequestration cuts, which will take effect Jan. 2 if Congress does not reverse them.

Republicans in Congress have criticized the Obama administration for not planning for the cuts, and Zients is testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday to talk about implementing sequestration.

Zients also issued guidance to federal agencies Tuesday that said OMB would begin consulting with federal agencies about how to plan for sequestration.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who conducted a four-state tour to talk about sequestration this week, said the administration was “flailing around attempting to make sequester look less devastating than it actually is."

“Today’s announcement increases the impact of these arbitrary cuts on the readiness of our armed forces,” the senators said in a statement.

“We believe the effect of such cuts will be a ‘hollow force’ as occurred after the Vietnam War. Today’s announcement by the president abrogates difficult decision-making in favor of scoring cheap political points, and will further undermine the readiness of our all-volunteer force.”

— This story was updated at 6:16 p.m.