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Obama seeks smaller defense cuts; budget likely DOA


President Barack Obama will seek smaller cuts to the military when he releases his 2014 budget on Wednesday, though the request is probably dead on arrival in Congress.

The $3.77 trillion budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 would reduce automatic cuts to defense spending over the next decade to $100 billion, down from $500 billion, senior administration officials said yesterday during a background briefing.

It would replace the across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration and mandated under legislation passed in 2011, with an alternative plan to reduce the deficit in part by increasing taxes on top earners.

The budget, which is two months late, reflects a similar proposal Obama made last year during negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio. The spending plan would reduce the deficit by another $1.8 trillion over 10 years while increasing spending on infrastructure and programs to aid the middle-class.

An accompanying fact sheet from the administration didn't specify additional defense-related details. The White House and the Pentagon are scheduled to release budget materials online at 11:15 a.m. Washington time.

Because of the gulf between Democrats and Republicans over taxes and spending, Obama's request probably won't get anywhere in the House. What's more, another showdown over the debt ceiling may be looming this summer.

Thus, long-term automatic cuts to defense and non-defense programs could be here to stay.

Unless both parties can reach a deal that has eluded them for nearly two years, "it seems likely that DoD will see its budget cut to $475 billion in FY 2014 through the blunt, indiscriminate mechanism of sequestration," Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank, wrote last week in a budget briefing.

To show just how far apart the budget request can be from actual spending, that's 11 percent less than what the Defense Department previously asked for to fund its base budget for the same period.

"Moving from one crisis to the next without resolution of the underlying issues has created a fog bank of uncertainty," Harrison wrote. Chief Naval Officer Adm. Jonathan Greenert used the same phrase Monday to describe the budget situation during a speech at the Sea Air Space Exposition at National Harbor, Md.

"Because of this uncertainty, DoD and Congress have not yet begun to grapple seriously with major structural issues in the defense budget—issues that over time will erode the military's ability to support a well-trained, modernized force of sufficient size to meet the nation’s security commitments," he wrote.

Even with the spending reductions, the Pentagon needs to make significant changes to avoid bankrupting key areas of the budget, according to Harrison.

For example, if personnel, operation and maintenance costs keep rising, they may consume the "entire defense budget" by 2024, leaving no funding for weapons procurement, military construction or family housing, he wrote.

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