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Pentagon Not As Optimistic as GOP over Sequestration Roll Back

Frank Kendall is the top Pentagon acquisition official overseeing the purchase of the military’s major weapons programs. (DoD photo)

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill expect the defense portion of sequestration to be incrementally rolled back once the new Congress comes to session in 2015 even though Pentagon officials said Wednesday that they aren't so confident.

Sequestration is slated to resume in 2015, but Congressional sources said they expect the Republicans to use their new majority in the Senate to lessen the burden on the military.

"What you will probably see is a consensus among Republicans that we really need to roll back sequestration for defense.  I think there will be a whole new momentum to take the defense portion of sequestration off the table. Once you do that, everything else changes," the source said. 

However, Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's top acquisition official, said Wednesday morning at a speech in Washington D.C. that he would be "quite surprised" if Congress would come to a consensus to protect the Defense Department from sequestration.

There's also the question of whether President Obama would support it. The president could veto a deal and Obama has said he would only support a repeal of sequestration if it was balanced on defense and non-defense programs.

Overall, Republican leaders are optimistic that substantial party gains in the midterm elections will result in greater success passing defense legislation and increasing defense spending. The defense budget's topline is likely to be increased, regardless of what happens with individual programs, Congressional sources said.

"It is easier when you have a pro-defense party in control of defense committees. The question had been 'how much can we cut from defense for other priorities?' Now we may actually increase defense spending so this changes the conversation," a Republican Congressional aide said. 

For the first time in eight years, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will now be sending legislation to a Republican-backed Senate.  House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon believes the election will make for faster Congressional movement on defense legislation. 

 "The chairman is encouraged that so many people won with robust national security posture and hopes to see a return to appropriate levels of funding for DoD," said HASC spokesman Claude Chafin. 

Chafin explained how partisan disagreements prevented the National Defense Authorization Act from reaching the floor of Congress.  

"Chairman McKeon has always been concerned that the NDAA was not able to get to the Senate floor in a timely manner. He hopes in the years to come that the NDAA is able to return to regular order," Chafin said. 

The results of the elections will change leadership of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Appropriation Committee -- Defense.  Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, will likely be the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi., will lead the Senate Appropriations Committee- Defense Subcommittee. 

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com

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