Senate Armed Services Committee members will likely use Thursday’s hearing with Gen. Martin E. Dempsey to flesh out more detail on the fiscal sacrifices the military will make if budget caps remain in place into fiscal 2014.
Dempsey will appear before the panel one week after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel provided the committee with a broad outline of the Pentagon’s contingency plans should Congress and the White House fail to reach a bipartisan deficit reduction agreement before Oct. 1.
The secretary warned that hundreds of individual programs, both large and small, would be cut significantly, leading the Pentagon to buy fewer ships, planes and ground vehicles. However, the memo to committee leaders did not name specific military programs or other accounts that could get axed in an austere budget environment.
In short, Hagel’s outline, provided at the behest of committee leaders, was short on the type of information that lawmakers, many of whom have a parochial stake in what the Pentagon decides to keep or cut, had hoped he would provide.
Indeed, Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, on Monday called Hagel’s response “woefully light on details.”
As he makes his case for another two years as the military’s top officer, Dempsey may be uniquely qualified to discuss the Pentagon’s fiscal fate. He helped lead a high-level “strategic choices and management review” that Hagel ordered earlier this year to lay out spending options and priorities for the department.
But whether Dempsey will provide any new details on that review is unclear. Pentagon officials have been uncharacteristically mum, preferring instead to paint only a broad picture of what they consider to be dangerous and disastrous effects of the austere budget caps, which would carve $52 billion from the Pentagon’s accounts next year.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.