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GOP leaders craft bill to give Pentagon more control over sequestration cuts


One of the biggest complaints Pentagon leaders have had on sequestration is the lack of control they have to decide where the brunt of the massive budget cuts will hit the defense budget. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta prefers to liken sequestration to a meat axe so much so that his aides gave him a plastic meat axe at his going away party.

That meat axe could turn into a less unwieldy cutting tool should Congress and the president approve a bill being worked on by Republican leaders to allow the military's brass to pick where sequestration cuts will hit hardest.

The clock continues to tick until the Friday deadline when the sequestration cuts will take effect. The Defense Department is due to absorb a $500 billion reduction in planned defense spending over the next ten years. In fiscal year 2013, which ends in October, the Pentagon will have to slash $46 billion from their budget.

These cuts amount to a 10 percent reduction of the Pentagon's budget that will affect every military account except for military pay and benefits, which the president has exempted. The rest will receive the 10 percent cut -- no matter the program.

The New York Times and Defense News is reporting that Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and James Inhofe of Oklahoma are crafting the bill that would give the Pentagon and other federal agencies the freedom to peg the cuts in the programs they want while protecting the others.

This would allow the generals to protect accounts such as training and maintenance that they have said in repeated hearings will certainly drop the military's readiness. Of course, no amount of budgetary wizardry would be able to shield the Pentagon completely from the damage of such a massive cut. But it would allow it more flexibility, something the generals have asked for.

News of the deal comes the same day as the service chiefs again sat before Congress to describe the affects of sequestration -- this time before the House Appropriation Committee. The chiefs mostly repeated the same message they shared with the Senate and House Armed Services Committees two weeks ago.

However on Tuesday, the Pentagon pushed back against criticism leveraged recently by some saying that America's generals are crying wolf over the effect of these sequestration cuts. George Little, the head Pentagon spokesman, led a press conference at the Pentagon Tuesday saying the military brass has taken offense to any such suggestions.

"If you sensing a bit of frustration…you are sensing correctly," Little told reporters when asked if the military is making too big a deal about sequestration considering the growth of the military's budget over the past ten years.

Certain analysts and Capitol Hill aides have speculated whether the White House would want the added flexibility to pick what accounts will absorb the cuts. Doing so would place more of the onus of sequestration on the executive office and the cabinet in terms of what is cut.

However, Defense News is reporting that Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., could bring the bill up to vote at some point this week. It's unclear yet if the bill would pass.

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