Obama 'frustrated' GOP defense hawks continue to stymie sequester talks

Speaking to a crowd of more than 3,000 Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Obama called out the congressional cadre of pro-defense Republicans for praising U.S. troops while stymieing efforts on Capitol Hill to eliminate more than $500 billion in automatic budget cuts under sequestration. 

"What makes me frustrated sometimes is the very folks who say they stand with our military proudly [are] the same ones who are standing in the way of fixing the sequester," Obama said during a speech on Wednesday. 

"It is important to look at deeds and not words," Obama said during the speech, held at the service's headquarters for Marine Expeditionary Force I. 

Without naming names, the president's comments were clearly aimed at the block of GOP defense hawks in Congress that have dug in against White House efforts to circumvent spending cuts under sequestration via tax increases and subsidy cuts. 

On the House side, that block includes House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and the majority of Republicans on the Defense panel. 

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeDems give muted praise to Pompeo-Kim meeting Overnight Energy: Former Pruitt aide alleges more wasteful spending, retaliation | Senate confirms EPA No. 2 | Zinke backs off big park fee increases Senate approves Trump’s pick for No. 2 at EPA MORE (R-Okla.), the ranking member on the Senate Defense panel, is one of several GOP members of the committee who are digging in against the administration's sequestration alternatives. 

However, congressional Republicans claim the administration's own hard line against cuts to entitlement spending and other social welfare programs has been the biggest hurdle to eliminating Defense cuts under sequestration. 

"The biggest detriment to fixing the sequester is the White House," Rep. Randy ForbesJames (Randy) Randy ForbesToo much ‘can do,’ not enough candor Trump makes little headway filling out Pentagon jobs Why there's only one choice for Trump's Navy secretary MORE (R-Va.) told The Hill in an interview earlier this month. 

If the administration was willing to work with pro-defense Republicans in the House and Senate, Forbes said he was confident Congress could have an alternative sequestration plan wrapped up by September. 

That said "even if you have that incentive [in Congress], I think the president's actions have kicked that [momentum] in the teeth," according to Forbes, who head's up the House Armed Services subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces. 

Caught in the middle of the sequestration showdown between Obama and Congress is the Pentagon, which recently outlined a bleak scenario for the U.S. military should sequestration run its course. 

In its sequestration strategy released in late July, the Pentagon said one scenario being considered would shrink the Army from 490,00 to between 380,000 and 450,000 troops. 

The Marine Corps would be slashed from 182,000 to between 150,00 and 175,000, and the number of aircraft carrier strike groups would be reduced from 11 to eight or nine. 

“This strategic choice would result in a force that would be technologically dominant but would be much smaller and able to go to fewer places and do fewer things,” Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelShould Mike Pompeo be confirmed? Intel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security Hagel: Trump is 'an embarrassment' MORE said in announcing the strategy. 

The reductions would be made to take into account $500 billion in spending cuts mandated by the sequester over the next decade. The cuts began in March and would reduce Pentagon spending by $52 billion next year.

The Pentagon still argues Congress should get rid of the sequester so that the scheduled cuts are not made.

Hagel on Wednesday called on Congress to ensure the scenarios outlined in the Pentagon strategy do not come to pass. 

“It is the responsibility of our nation’s leadership to work together to replace the mindless and irresponsible policy of sequestration,” he said.