A cut more costly than sequestration

Extending the continuing resolution could prove more harmful to the U.S. military's budget than the sequestration cuts, Pentagon leaders say.

Defense leaders have lined up this past month to name the Pentagon’s latest enemy —  an extension of the  continuing resolution — saying it could prove equally, if not more, devastating to the U.S. military in 2013 as the sequestration cuts.

Navy Adm. Bill McRaven joined the growing parade of generals Tuesday to stand behind a lectern and tell a crowd how an extension of the continuing resolution would further damager the U.S. military. The continuing resolution is an agreement by Congress to extend the funding levels of the previous year because of its inability to pass a federal budget.

Better known as the CR, this funding mechanism does not take into account the anticipated growth in defense spending that Pentagon leaders had budgeted. Flattening the budget line leaves the Pentagon feeling at a loss because contracts have been signed and bills need to be paid.

“If Congress fails to pass the appropriations bill for FY 13 and simply extends the C.R. through the year, our overall operating accounts would decrease by about five percent below the proposed budget presented by the president for our 2013 budget,” Panetta said on Jan. 10 during a Pentagon press conference.

The deadlines for sequestration and the CR fall in March. A combination of the sequestration cuts and an extension of the CR would force the U.S. military to make a $52 billion cut to its budget by October, Panetta said. With each day, service leaders are getting more worried this scenario might come to pass.

Navy Under Secretary Bob Work did his best to sound the alarm to what the combination of sequester and the extension of the CR would mean to the Navy.

“If that happens, ladies and gentlemen, the world as we know it will end. There’s just no way you can keep the Navy whole and keep the Marine Corps whole,” Work told the Surface Naval Association symposium on Jan. 17.

Sequestration was the buzz word for the past year when discussing budget. Panetta often likens it to a meat ax. In this past month, the military brass has made it a point to explain how much an extension of the CR would also hurt the services.

McRaven went as far to say that the CR “puts a greater constraint on us than sequester.” While sequestration has gotten more attention, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said on Jan. 17 that the Navy has “an equal concern about CR.”

An extension of the CR will force the Pentagon to cut $11 billion from its budget in 2013 while sequestration would cost the U.S. military $18 billion, Panetta has said. However, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said the extension of the CR further limits the services’ ability to protect certain programs.

Odierno told a group of reporters that the Army would have to absorb a loss of $17 to $19 billion over the last seven months of the fiscal year should the service have to sustain a combination of the sequestration cuts and an extension of the CR.

McRaven said he would be forced to forego new technologies for SOCOM under tighter budgets.

“You’ve got to be able to cut back on your investments, if you will, in the future,” McRaven said. “That’s about all you can do to make sure you can stay in the fight, to make sure your current force forward is taken care of.”

Pentagon officials have already started to take steps in anticipation of what has been called a doomsday budget scenario. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said it’s likely that the Defense Department’s civilian employees will have to start taking an unpaid furlough day every week starting in April until the end of September.

Military brass have worked hard to transition their services to the new defense strategy and the Pacific Pivot. These cuts, to include the extension of the CR, will make those moves especially hard, Panetta said.

“An important part of our new defense strategy is to try to increase the operating accounts in order to maintain readiness, but the C.R. — if it’s just simply extended — would really prevent us from doing that,” Panetta said.

— Richard Sisk contributed to this report.