Week ahead: Decision time on sequester, Hagel

President Obama talked last week about furloughs to first-responders and cuts at airports across the country, and on Tuesday will head to Hampton Roads, a major shipyard for the Navy, to deliver a speech urging Congress to stop sequestration.

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Obama’s stop is intended to highlight a site that would be hit hard by the sequestration cuts to the defense budget.

Sequestration would cut the 2013 budget by $85 billion in both defense and non-defense discretionary spending, after Congress and the White House included a two-month delay in the January “fiscal cliff” deal.

Most Democrats and Republicans think sequestration is bad policy, but there’s no agreement on an alternative to the cuts. Democrats say that new revenues must be included in a deal, while Republicans say that mandatory spending must be tackled, not new taxes.

Senate Democrats released a plan before the recess to avoid the sequester, but it’s considered a non-starter with Republicans — just as the bills House Republicans passed in the last Congress are dead-on-arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

While the Senate is not likely to pass any bills to avoid sequestration this week, the upper chamber is poised to confirm a new secretary of Defense.

Senate Republicans blocked Hagel in a 58-40 cloture vote before the recess, but multiple Republicans have pledged to vote for moving to a final up-or-down vote when Congress returns.

With a simple majority, Hagel’s confirmation is all but assured; none of the 55 Democrats in the Senate have spoken out against him, and he also has the support of three Republicans.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is still trying to rally his colleagues to block Hagel, and circulated a letter Thursday urging a “no” vote on cloture.

In addition to sequestration and Hagel, it will be a busy week on Capitol Hill, with a slew of hearings taking place.

The House Armed Services Committee has eight hearings planned from Tuesday through Thursday, from a look at the role of intelligence in the Pentagon to the transition in Afghanistan.

There’s also a sequestration hearing planned for Thursday, one day before the cuts are set to hit, that will examine the impact on acquisition, programming and the industrial base.

The House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees this week are holding the first two of four scheduled joint hearings to receive legislative proposals from advocacy groups.

And the Senate Armed Services Committee has a confirmation hearing slated for Thursday with three sub-Cabinet DOD nominees.


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