'Reasonable chance' DOD can duck sequester, says Pentagon budget chief

"I definitely hope sequestration won't happen, and I still believe there's a reasonable chance it will not," DOD comptroller Robert Hale said Tuesday during a speech in Arlington, Va. 

His comments echo those made by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) earlier this month. 

“One way or another, since 90 percent of us don’t want it, it will not happen,” Levin told reporters on Capitol Hill. “My hope is it will not happen early enough to avoid any kind of instability or upset or uncertainty," he added. 

The Pentagon is facing a roughly $500 billion across-the-board budget cut under the White House's sequestration plan. The cuts were triggered by lawmakers failure last summer to come to an agreement on a deal to raise the debt ceiling but cut spending. Another nearly $500 billion in cuts will come from non-defense spending. 

With just over three months until the cuts go into place, lawmakers still have yet to come up with a viable alternative to avoid the funding reductions. 

But according to Hale, there is still hope inside the Pentagon that Congress can forge a alternate plan. 

Hale's optimism belies the severe partisan divide on Capitol Hill over dealing with the automatic cuts. 

Congressional Democrats have argued for months that tax increases must be considered as part of a replacement plan. Republicans in both chambers, however, have shunned including any tax hikes. 

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill argue the planned defense cuts should be replaced with additional cuts to social welfare programs. 

Such partisan bickering has put the Pentagon and the rest of the government on a collision course with a harsh fiscal future, Hale told lawmakers last Thursday. 

“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 told members of the House Armed Services Committee.

Hale was responding to committee comments suggesting sequestration could be manageable, if DOD is allowed to weigh in on which areas of the defense budget the reductions would come from. 

“We need to halt [sequestration], rather than try to make it better, because we're not going to be able to make it fundamentally better," he added. 

On Monday, group of Democratic and Republican senators sent a letter to their party's respective leaders pleading for a bipartisan solution to sequestration. 

In the letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the lawmakers also reiterated their commitment to forging an alternative sequestration plan. 

"We are committed to working together to help forge a balanced bipartisan deficit reduction package to avoid damage to our national security, important domestic priorities, and our economy," wrote Levin and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking member on Armed Services. 

Panel members Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) also signed the letter. 

On Tuesday, Levin declined to comment on the letter or whether he still believes Congress can reach a solution on sequestration before time runs out on Capitol Hill. 

The Michigan Democrat told The Hill through a spokesman that the language in the letter urging a bipartisan solution should speak for itself. 

—Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.