'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. 

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His comments echo those made by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinThe Trumpification of the federal courts Global health is the last bastion of bipartisan foreign policy Can the United States Senate rise to the occasion? Probably not MORE (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 ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Trumpification of the federal courts Trump to rally evangelicals after critical Christianity Today editorial Left presses 2020 Democrats to retake the courts from Trump MORE (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Democrats file brief against Trump, 'the Framers' worst nightmare' Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner MORE (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 McCainJohn Sidney McCainMartha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter Meghan McCain blasts NY Times: 'Everyone already knows how much you despise' conservative women GOP senator calls CNN reporter a 'liberal hack' when asked about Parnas materials MORE (R-Ariz.), the ranking member on Armed Services. 

Panel members Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Senate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-S.C.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne Shaheen2020 forecast: A House switch, a slimmer Senate for GOP — and a bigger win for Trump Lewandowski decides against Senate bid Biden would consider Republican for VP 'but I can't think of one right now' MORE (D-N.H.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 MORE (D-R.I.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (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.