Hagel to Prod Lawmakers With Budgets Exceeding Limits

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to tell Congress today that he will propose budgets in coming years that exceed mandated spending caps in order to avoid compromising national security.

Hagel intends to use testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee to lay down a marker against the reductions that are scheduled under the budget cuts known as sequestration. Over the next five years, Pentagon budget plans would exceed the approved spending caps by about $115 billion, Hagel said.

President Barack Obama “and I are not going to ask for a level of funding that would compromise America’s national security interests,” Hagel said in prepared testimony obtained in advance by Bloomberg News. “We never would.”

While citing a list of cuts that he said would be required, Hagel said he doesn’t “expect Congress to push us further down a path that has clear risks to our national security.”

The Pentagon yesterday offered a $495.6 billion budget for fiscal 2015 that meets congressionally mandated spending limits by cutting the size of the Army, retiring aging aircraft and curbing the growth of military pay and benefits. The limits for the coming year were eased by Congress in a budget deal in December.

If sequestration resumes in 2016, the Pentagon would have to cut more deeply into Army ranks, retire 80 more Air Force planes and halt the planned refurbishing of the George Washington aircraft carrier, leaving the Navy with a fleet of 10 carriers instead of 11, according to Hagel.

Growing Risks

“The risks will grow, and the options we can provide the nation will shrink,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in his prepared testimony.

“We need help from our elected leaders to rebalance the force,” said Dempsey, who will join Hagel to testify today before the Senate panel and the next day before the House Armed Services committees.

Hagel and his predecessors have warned for several years that sequestration would impose unacceptable risks, only to see Congress let it proceed for a time last year before striking an alternative budget deal.

“If we don’t get some clarity in our future funding, we will have to start implementing those changes,” Hagel said. “That means fewer planes, fewer ships, fewer troops, and a force that would be undertrained, poorly maintained and reliant on older weapons and equipment.”

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