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Pentagon aims ax to make a point with sequester cuts, uses worst-case scenarios to force deal


The Navy has suspended the planned deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman Strike Group, commanded by Rear Adm. Kevin Sweeney (above) because of the looming sequester budget cuts. The Truman recently completed a composite unit training exercise, which certified the strike group as ready to deploy, but it will be staying in Norfolk, Va., for the time being. (U.S. Navy)

The Obama administration is putting attention-getting Pentagon projects on the chopping block in a bid to pressure Congress into making a deal that avoids $46 billion in military budget cuts March 1, analysts and congressional officials say.

They use terms such as “gold watches,” “hot button” and “Washington Monumenting” to describe the cuts outlined over the past two weeks by the chiefs of the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy and National Guard in briefings and hearings.

SEE RELATED: Sequestration becomes partisan game of political chicken on the Hill

Analysts and Capitol Hill staffers say there are less-dramatic budget items that could be sacrificed in the first year of a decade of across-the-board spending cuts called sequestration.

But they think the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the White House want to pick the items that would put the most pressure on lawmakers.

For example, the Navy turned to what perhaps is its most iconic weapon — and one festooned with jobs — when it postponed the Persian Gulf deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman. To drive home the point, the Navy also suspended the jobs-generating overhaul of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

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“There’s no question in my mind by starting late and ‘Washington Monumenting’ ... more >

Underscoring the premise that all politics are local, the Joint Chiefs and other Pentagon leaders have decided to furlough civilian workers across the nation and put local construction projects in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, the Air Force sent to Capitol Hill a map of the U.S. that shows state-by-state the millions of dollars lost to local economies, according to briefing documents obtained by The Washington Times.

“There’s no question in my mind by starting late and ‘Washington Monumenting’ the process, they certainly went after hot-button things,” Gordon Adams, a senior White House budget official during the Clinton administration, told The Times. “As far as I’m concerned, this is all politics.”

SEE RELATED: Military warns cuts would create ‘hollow force’ akin to 1970s

Mr. Adams explains “Washington Monumenting” as the Interior Department’s threat in a bygone budget battle to close the most famous icon in the nation’s capital.

‘Adding drama’

Mr. Adams describes the chiefs’ actions as politics because they let it be known what they would have to cut weeks before Feb. 8, the date the briefing was due at the White House.

The stunning cuts also came as Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta was preparing to relinquish office and his nominated replacement, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, was in a tough confirmation fight with Senate Republicans.

“They decided to go forward with the most horrendous things they could think of due to consequences of the sequester,” Mr. Adams said. “The timing that they chose was as one secretary was leaving and the other secretary was wounded in battle, congressional battle; in other words, perfect time for the chiefs to assert themselves. So, they did.”

Some in Congress share Mr. Adams’ view.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, dashed off a letter to Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, accusing the Pentagon of theatrics.

“I am concerned that these decisions are being made for the purpose of adding drama to the sequestration debate, given the continuation of other programs that are worthy of cost-cuts or even elimination,” the California Republican said.

A staffer on a Senate defense panel told The Times that the Joint Chiefs “are certainly going after the gold watches.”

But the Pentagon is getting the reaction it aimed for.

After the Navy announced it would delay work on the Lincoln, Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican, said: “This reduction would significantly impact thousands of skilled shipyard workers, who have labored to develop their skills and will represent a blow to the future capabilities of Newport News to deliver timely and cost-effective ships to the fleet.”

Based in Norfolk, Va., the Lincoln would have its midlife overhaul and refueling carried out in Newport News, Va.

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