Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the House Armed Services Committee $55 billion in defense cuts faced by the Pentagon in fiscal year 2013 if sequestration is not reversed would lead to "an unready, hollow military force."
Democrats and Republicans remain deeply divided over how to avoid sequestration, automatic across-the-board deficit-reduction crafted by Congress in the Budget Control Act last August to temporarily resolve a national debt ceiling standoff. House Republicans say the issue could be resolved if Democrats agreed to cut domestic programs.
During one exchange, Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, tangled with Republican committee members over who would be at fault if $110 billion in mandatory spending cuts in defense and domestic programs take effect Jan. 2.
"The intent of the sequester was to use the threat of mutually disagreeable cuts to both defense and non-defense programs to force Congress to enact a compromise deficit reduction plan," Zients said. "If allowed to occur, sequestration would be destructive to domestic investments, national security and core government operations."
The Congressional Budget Office estimates defense spending would be cut about 10 percent and non-defense funding by nearly 8 percent if the sequester is not undone.
"The root cause of the problem here is the Republican refusal to acknowledge that the top 2 percent have to pay their share," Zients said. He said sequestration "by design is bad policy," and Congress should pass a balanced deficit reduction to avoid it.
Republican Ohio Rep. Michael Turner responded by commending Zients "on your broken record of partisanship with respect to your fiction of the fact that this administration has a budget or a plan."
Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said not planning for sequestration would "make a terrible situation worse."
"This impasse and lack of a clear way forward has created a chaotic and uncertain budget environment for industry and defense planners," he said.