Senior Pentagon Official Would Prefer Delay on Sequestration

As some members of Congress consider short-term fixes to stave off the effects of sequestration, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said on Thursday he would also prefer delaying the $55 billion in reductions to the Pentagon's budget that could take effect next year if Congress fails to reach a deal to reduce the deficit.

"A delay is better than having it," Carter said at a Politico Pro Defense event. "And if a delay leads to ultimately dispelling this cloud, it's all the better."

Carter referred to the across-the-board cuts, which would reduce defense discretionary accounts by 9.4 percent next year, as a "hidden tax," saying it would force the Pentagon "to be uneconomical, and our industry partners to be uneconomical in the conduct of our affairs."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said at the same event he is looking for a deal to stave off sequestration for about four months, to provide "some confidence" to strike a grand bargain to reduce the deficit down the road. House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said a short-term fix to push back sequestration entirely would "certainly be kicking the can down the road" — and instead wants to find "some kind of agreement" to achieve deficit reduction goals for six months and avert the across-the-board cuts that way.

The military is already set to slash roughly $500 billion from the defense budget over the next 10 years. The so-called sequestration mechanism that would take effect should Congress fail to find a compromise to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion would take another $500 billion out of Pentagon accounts over the next decade. For months, Graham has been calling for both parties to avert sequestration through a mix of spending cuts and new revenues, a break from his party's no-new-taxes orthodoxy — but members of his caucus are unsure about whether to agree to consider revenues such as tax loopholes as part of a deal to stave off sequestration. In order to delay the full $55 billion slated for next year, though, Republicans may have to agree to more than just the closing of a few relatively inexpensive loopholes.

Meanwhile, the military has been raising concerns that the sweeping cuts under sequestration would harm the military's readiness and disrupt the war effort.  "This has a real effect, potentially, on the war fight itself," Carter said.

"What we would need to do under sequestration, in order to service the wars, is take extra amounts of money out of operations and maintenance," he added, "which will get at training, which will get at readiness, which means that later deploying units might be affected in terms of their readiness and the force will not be ready to do things elsewhere in the world."