DOD: Upcoming budget plan won't take sequestration into account

The heads of all U.S. government agencies submitted their fiscal 2014 proposals to the White House's Office of Management and Budget last week, except for the Pentagon. 

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The Defense Department's budgeting process differs from those of other U.S. governmental agencies, DOD spokeswoman Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins explained to The Hill shortly after the OMB deadline expired last week.  

DOD officials continue to confer with their service counterparts and administration officials on the specific details of the department's upcoming fiscal '14 proposal, she said. 

However, one detail that is not being discussed during those preliminary budget talks inside the Pentagon and White House is the possible impact of sequestration. 

Congress has a little over four months to come up with an alternative spending plan to avoid nearly $500 billion in automatic spending cuts to Defense Department coffers. 

The cuts are part of the administration's sequestration plan, which was included in last year's debt-reduction deal with lawmakers. 

The cuts are scheduled to go into effect this January. DOD's fiscal '14 budget plan is due to Capitol Hill in February. 

When asked if department officials are drafting two budgets — one reflecting normal Pentagon expenditures and another reflecting the fiscal impact of sequestration — Robbins said the answer was an emphatic no. 

"As we have said before, we are not planning for sequestration to take place, and that includes our work on the [fiscal] '14 budget," she told The Hill last Wednesday. 

Robbins's comments came days before the White House issued its highly anticipated report detailing the impacts of the looming budget cuts on specific areas of U.S. national defense. 

Congress mandated the report, released last Friday, from the Obama administration in an effort to pry details out of the White House on the cuts. 

It was the clearest picture to date of where the ax will fall if lawmakers fail to prevent the automatic spending cuts with new legislation.

Republicans have hammered the Obama administration for not putting out its own plan to fix the cuts, which became law after the congressional supercommittee failed to come to an agreement on the federal deficit. 

Discretionary spending accounts for the Defense Department will be cut by 10 percent, according to the administration report. Non-discretionary funds for the Pentagon will also be reduced, but at the lower rate of 9.4 percent, according to the administration's report. 

On the non-military side, discretionary accounts will be trimmed across the board by more than 8 percent, including a 2 percent cut to Medicare spending, the administration's assessment states. 

While strictly preliminary assessments, the budget cuts under sequestration "should never be implemented" because the level and manner of cuts called for under sequestration represent a "blunt and indiscriminate instrument" by which to balance the budget, senior administration officials told reporters on Friday, shortly after the report's release.

Congressional Republicans argue the House has already passed legislation that would reverse them, but the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House refuse to take action on those plans. They continued that line of attack shortly after the report's release. 

"This report confirms that the president’s ‘sequester’ is a serious threat to our national security and must be replaced," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on Friday. 

"But ... President Obama and [congressional] Democrats have taken no action whatsoever to avert these cuts," Boehner noted. 

In a statement released the same day, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) added that the report "highlights the crippling effect these reductions will have on our nation’s security."

House Republicans will have an opportunity to discuss the cuts during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on sequestration that will feature Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale and the deputies for all four service chiefs.