DOD: Sequestration should be averted, not fixed

Pentagon leaders have used many colorful metaphors to describe sequestration, and Hale added a new one to the lexicon Thursday to make further make his point.

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“If you're driving into a brick wall at 60 miles an hour, let's find a way to avoid the wall, not figure out a way to pick up the pieces after we hit it,” Hale said.

“I believe that's true,” he said. “We need to halt this thing, rather than try to make it better because we're not going to be able to make it fundamentally better.”

Thursday’s hearing was the final for the Armed Services Committee on sequestration before the election, which was noted by Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) at the start of the hearing.

The hearing lacked the fireworks that occurred in the committee’s previous hearing on sequestration, where Obama administration budget chief Jeffrey Zients and several Republicans got into near-shouting matches.

Instead, it was a much more subdued discussion about the problems with sequestration and some of the long-term effects, such as cuts to personnel outlined by the DOD officials that would likely occur in later years after it was specifically exempted in 2013.

Part of the reason for the calmer hearing was that the witness list was made up of nonpartisan Pentagon officials instead of the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

That didn’t mean there were no politics in the hearing, of course. In one instance, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) pushed Hale on the president’s plan to stop sequestration, which the administration says is accomplished through the president’s budget.

“Is it realistic for the president to hold to a plan that of 535 potential votes did not get a single vote from a member of either party, and he wants to hold to that plan? Is that leadership?” Scott said.

“I have to take them at their word,” Hale responded.

When Scott pressed, ranking member Adam SmithAdam SmithPentagon urges Congress to move 6M for missile defense Pass the Protecting Data at the Border Act Overnight Defense: Mattis makes surprise visit to Afghanistan | Army general deploys to Puerto Rico to oversee hurricane relief | Senate panel advances Joint Chiefs chair's nomination MORE (D-Wash.) interjected to spar with Scott instead.

“I'm sorry. You've asked the question of these people,” Smith said. “I'm happy to answer it.”

Ahead of the Thursday’s hearing, Smith questioned the usefulness of even bringing in the witnesses to testify, sending a letter to McKeon that asked for hearings to focus on solutions, not the problems of the sequester cuts, which would cut the Pentagon budget by about $55 billion in 2013.

Smith did not ask questions of the witnesses but gave a short statement instead in which he attacked Republican criticisms on the Pentagon for not planning for sequestration.

“How anyone could listen to our comptroller and our four vice chiefs and conclude that somehow the Pentagon isn't planning for this is just utterly beyond me,” Smith said.

McKeon, who said the White House report on sequestration released last week "failed to comply" with the law mandating it, said that focusing on the planning was important.

"Planning can't resolve sequestration, but the lack of planning and the failure to exercise leadership now can make a dire situation worse," McKeon said.