Pentagon fiscal chief Robert Hale: ‘I am nervous'
“Frankly, I am nervous,” says Robert Hale, the Pentagon’s comptroller. And with reason.
A month and half into the new fiscal year, Congress can’t seem to decide between what are three, wildly different scenarios for Hale’s world in 2014. The House endorsed most of President Barack Obama’s $527 billion request for the Defense Department in July. Last month’s stopgap CR went back to $496 billion. And DOD will drop by another $21 billion in mid-January if lawmakers do nothing to stop sequestration.
“We still don’t know what fiscal ’14 is, which is an extraordinary situation,” Hale told POLITICO. Making it worse, perhaps, is a growing acceptance—even callousness— in the Capitol toward the level of disorder sequestration brings.
The first round of cuts that began on March 1 already forced DOD to implement $37 billion in reductions in the space of six months. Why should another $21 billion –spread over more than eight months—be any harder?
Indeed, this equation is now fundamental to the politics of the House-Senate budget talks which resume Wednesday. A significant faction of Republicans have come to embrace the lower post-sequestration caps set under the Budget Control Act in 2011. And the real-life math for the military has become submerged in the tit-for-tat politics over Obama’s healthcare reforms.
The next two weeks running up to Thanksgiving are pivotal if Congress is to have any chance of restoring some order for the Pentagon and a broken appropriations process. But what’s most remarkable is how lawmakers seem to be backing into decisions without first having a full debate over what level of defense the U.S. needs going forward.
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