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WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2013 â€“ Though little will change immediately if deep across-the-board spending cuts trigger March 1, the long-term changes will be disastrous for the Defense Department, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said here today.
A “sequestration” mechanism in budget law requires the Pentagon to cut more than $47 billion in spending for the rest of the fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30, unless Congress agrees on and the president signs an alternative plan.
Still, Little said, there will be no discernible change March 2 if the cuts take effect March 1 — child care centers will operate, and schools and commissaries will open.
“This is not a government shutdown,” Little told reporters this morning. “But it will start the erosion of our military readiness, and we will soon see impacts to bases and installations around the world.”
The services have told Congress about the dangers to readiness. Inside of a year, 60 percent of the Army brigade combat teams will be ineffective, Army officials have said. The Marine Corps would experience a similar degradation in capabilities. Cuts to operations and maintenance funds will hammer flying hours and steaming days, meaning Air Force squadrons and Navy ships and aircraft will not be ready.
Further, some 800,000 Defense Department civilian employees stand to be furloughed without pay for up to 22 days through the end of the fiscal year. Pay and monetary benefits for service members, however, are exempt from sequestration.
DOD military and civilian officials have vowed that no one will be sent to a combat zone without the training and materials needed to succeed, but they have acknowledged that this will further constrain money for the base force.
The sequestration problem came up in meetings that Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta had with European allies at NATO headquarters in Brussels last week. “Our partners and allies are very concerned about sequestration,” Little said today. “This is an item that shouldn’t have to be on the agenda with foreign counterparts.”
Little rejected the notion that DOD has overstated the effects of sequestration.
“It is very clear that from military readiness to partial impacts to military families and troops that we’re looking at a very bleak set of scenarios if sequestration takes effect,” he said. “We have not been overhyping this. This is something we have been very forthright about for 18 months, and we will continue to express our opposition to a mechanism that will do harm to our national defense and could — if taken to the absurd extreme — hollow out the force.”
Congress still has time to avoid triggering the automatic cuts.
“We really hope that between now and Friday, Congress will act to prevent sequestration,” Little said.