By Paul McLeary
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has not drawn up an alternate sequester-compliant budget for 2016 if Congress fails to act and the mandatory budget cuts kick in on Oct. 1 a senior Pentagon official said this week.
Unlike in previous years when Pentagon budget planners developed multiple budgets to account for the president’s request and a sequester, the defense department felt that putting more than one budget together at a time was too much strain on the workforce, Pentagon comptroller Mike McCord told a small roundtable discussion in his office.
On Feb. 2, the White House asked Congress to fund the Pentagon at $534 billion in base funding for 2015, $35 billion higher than spending caps allow. The request has set up a showdown with the budget and appropriations committees on Capitol Hill this spring, as newly minted secretary of defense Ash Carter and the service chiefs make their case for the money they say is critical to carry out the president’s national security strategy.
On top of that request, the Pentagon has also asked for $51 billion in supplemental wartime accounts. That extra-budgetary account — so critical during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — is tentatively slated to be phased out between 2017 and 2020, according to Pentagon officials, but McCord warned that those plans are contingent on the sequester going away.
“We are developing a database of what is in OCO today” to determine what parts of it can be moved into the base budget, McCord said. In concert with the Office of Management and Budget and the services “we are taking those funds and putting them into categories which will be examined further. The idea is for us to have a proposal this fall that will then be vetted [to] guide whatever proposal we may put in the ’17 budget.'”
But, he warned, “if sequester isn’t fixed, then this effort falls by the wayside.”
Despite this line in the sand over its proposed funding, there is little indication that Congress will be able to reach some kind of larger budget deal that would stave off the sequester any time soon, with influential Republicans saying that they will refuse to enact the required tax increases that would be required to spend more on both defense and non-defense programs.