The Cable

Levin and McCain to Panetta: Don’t start cutting the military just yet

Senate Armed Services Committee heads Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday to tell him they believed the Pentagon was already moving to implement force structure reductions the administration proposed in next year's budget, and that he should stop until Congress has a chance to weigh in.

"In our preliminary review of the fiscal year 2013 budget request, it has become clear that the Department intends to begin implementing decisions under this budget request by taking actions in fiscal year 2012. It is also clear that there are programs where the Department plans to implement actions in 2012 before any of the congressional defense committees will have had an opportunity to act on the fiscal year 2013 budget request," wrote Levin and McCain. "While we understand that doing so may help the Department achieve more ‘savings' than might be otherwise realized, the Department should avoid taking actions that would restrict Congress' ability to consider and act on the fiscal year 2013 budget request."

"We request that you not take actions to implement decisions that would be difficult or impossible to reverse by anticipating congressional approval of what may turn out to be very contentious proposals before the committees have had an opportunity to produce bills reflecting their responses to the fiscal year 2013 budget request," they wrote.

A note from McCain's spokesperson about the letter specified that it was meant to convey to Panetta that "he not begin implementing force structure reductions until the fiscal year 2013 defense budget proposal has been authorized by Congress."

The 2013 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, but in the past few years, the defense authorization bill has not been passed until late December. The accompanying appropriations bill for defense may also not be passed this fall, because Congress is not expected to have a spending debate and negotiation in the run-up to the presidential election.

Regardless, Congress has a tradition of defending programs the administration wants to cut -- especially when it comes to force structure, as military bases and manufacturing plants have local support from various lawmakers. A McCain staffer explained to The Cable exactly what the administration is doing.

"In their FY 2013 budget request, the administration lays out actions it intends to take that may reduce or change force structure, such as cancelling C-27J Spartan light cargo aircraft contract, retiring C-27J aircraft, retiring an E-8C JSTARS aircraft, ship decommissions, etc., in 2012," the staffer said, adding that they may become aware of even more actions as briefings continue. "Senators McCain and Levin are requesting that Secretary Panetta not begin implementing these force structure reductions until the FY 2013 defense budget request has been reviewed, shaped and approved by Congress."

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