Pentagon Number two urges end to U.S. defense cut 'madness'

By David Alexander

By David Alexander WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work on Wednesday appealed to lawmakers to "stop the madness" of across-the-board Pentagon spending cuts, saying they threaten U.S. military readiness and technological dominance at a time of rising global challenges. Work, addressing a think-tank defense conference, said unless Congress gave the Pentagon greater budgetary stability and certainty, it ran the risk of fielding a military that was "increasingly misaligned with the strategic environment." Work's comments came as Congress, returning from a lengthy mid-term election break, prepared to take up measures to authorize and fund U.S. defense activity in the 2015 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1. While the year has started, Congress has not yet appropriated funding for the Pentagon, which has requested a base budget of $496 billion plus overseas war and disaster money of more than $64 billion. The government is currently funded through a resolution that continues spending through Dec. 11 based on last year's priorities. Congress will soon have to decide whether to approve 2015 appropriations or extend the continuing resolution to keep the government running. The Defense Department has been operating in an uncertain budget environment since Congress and the president approved the Budget Control Act of 2011, which required the Pentagon to cut nearly $1 trillion in projected spending over a decade. Officials initially thought a deal could be reached to eliminate half of the cuts, which are imposed automatically and across-the-board by a mechanism known as sequestration, with no regard for strategic priorities. But sequestration cuts went into effect last year, forcing the Pentagon to put most civilians on unpaid leave. A budget deal last year eased the effects of the cuts, but they are due to return in fiscal 2016. "We still have no certainty if sequestration is really going to kick in on 1 January, 2016, or not. ... So stop the madness, OK? We have to really stop the madness," Work said in remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Despite Work's concerns, some former officials voiced skepticism that conditions were right for a deal in Congress to end the cuts. Charles Houy, former staff director of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Pentagon budgets were due to begin rising slowly in 2016. He said the department needed a plan to live with budgets that kept pace with inflation but did not grow faster. (Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Steve Orlofsky)