Pentagon takes budget cuts ‘seriously’ ahead of congressional battles

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WASHINGTON ― The Pentagon does “take seriously” House Republican plans to slash the federal budget for next year by at least $130 billion and is readying a report to detail the potential impacts on defense, the department’s comptroller said Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters, Mike McCord said the Pentagon, which proposed an $842 billion budget on Thursday, is drafting a letter to explain several examples of how the department would absorb a potential defense cut. Though only a handful of Republicans lawmakers publicly favor the idea of a defense cut, the letter would likely become ammunition in the Capitol Hill budget battles to come.

“I don’t rule out the possibility the House will produce a budget resolution that implements that policy and tells the appropriators to go figure it out ― [whether to] exempt defense, don’t exempt defense [from cuts],” McCord said on the sidelines of the McAleese and Associates conference. “We do take it seriously. I wouldn’t say it’s a super likely outcome, but that’s not the same as not-worried about it.”

The House Appropriations Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, sent a letter in January to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the leaders of all other federal agencies seeking more details on the impact of fiscal cuts by House Republicans.

The letter to Austin is identical to the ones DeLauro sent to all other agency heads, which include the same queries, one of which asks: “How will these cuts affect our national security and global interests around the world?”

McCord said he hopes to issue a response this week after it was delayed amid the budget rollout and after White House input.

“We are going to respond to Congresswoman DeLauro’s letter with some illustrative examples and make clear our opposition to the idea,” McCord said, adding that it would not be a comprehensive report.

However, Republican leaders and the vast majority of the caucus have insisted they will slash discretionary spending without cutting the defense budget — though it’s unclear how they intend to follow through on that pledge. In fact, several lead Republicans in Congress blasted the Biden administration’s proposed 3.3% defense budget increase as “inadequate” last week.

Although lead Republicans have been saying defense cuts should be taken off the table, the idea of lowering nondefense accounts alone is “totally unrealistic,” McCord said.

He added that President Joe Biden’s proposed defense budget increase helps the Pentagon absorb a mandatory annual pay raise for troops, which accounts for roughly $10 billion of proposed new spending.

Because shrinking the military quickly is logistically difficult, readiness accounts ― proposed at $146 billion ― would be the likely target for such a cut, he said.

“If you have to eat ten, fifteen or twenty billion dollars of compensation costs, with a flat top line, where does that come out of, right?” McCord said.