Pentagon chief fears going back to sequestration

Pentagon chief fears going back to sequestration
© Greg Nash

Defense Secretary Ash Carter says he fears a collapse of a bipartisan budget deal, which could mean deeper cuts for the Pentagon next year.  

"The biggest concern I have down the road is, is at this particular moment, in terms of budget and resources, is I hope that we're not going to see the collapse of the bipartisan budget agreement," he told students Wednesday at the U.S. Naval War College. 

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House Republicans recently passed a bill that's built around the next president requesting an $18 billion increase in war funding upon taking office next year. A House appropriations bill follows the same path.

Republicans argue the $610 billion allowed under the deal for defense was understood to be a minimum; that the administration has increased operations in Europe, in Iraq and Syria; and that military readiness is facing a crisis. 

Democrats argue that the move is not only risky but that it would blow up the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act that increased both defense and non-defense spending for two years. The White House has already issued a veto threat against the House bill. 

Carter said that if the budget deal collapses, the Pentagon could revert back to lower spending levels under the 2011 Budget Control Act, known as sequestration, which sliced $500 billion from the Pentagon's budget over 10 years, on top of $500 billion cuts already planned.  

"It was supposed to be a two-year budget deal," Carter said. "Now, six months into it, they're passing bills that call into question whether that is going collapse or not. 

"That worries me a lot, because on the other side of that is $100 billion of sequester cuts. That's what happens if the budget deal collapses and we go back to sequester. So that's my principle worry."

If there is no Pentagon appropriations bill passed by October 1, Congress would need to pass a temporary spending measure, which would only extend spending on the same programs as this year, at the same level, and prevent any new spending or projects. 

"We've got to have some budget stability. We can manage within — OK, we understand we're not going to everything we want. Nobody ever gets everything they want, but we need stability. We need stability to plan; our industries need stability; our people need to know what their future is; our friends need to know that we're with them; our enemies need to know we're strong," Carter said. 

He warned against reverting back to the lower level of defense spending. 

"Strategically, we know what we're doing. Obviously, we'd like to have more; we'd always like to have more. But we can do what we need to do," Carter said.  

"But I can't pretend that I know we've figured out how to do that with $100 billion less in the coming years."