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Dempsey: Budget Request Reflects Much Fiscal Uncertainty

By Nick Simeone
WASHINGTON — While pledging deployed forces will continue to get everything they need, President Barack Obama’s $526.6 billion defense spending request for fiscal year 2014 was built for an “uncertain future,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today, a reference to the shadow triggered by the budget sequester hanging over defense spending.

In announcing the proposed budget at a Pentagon news conference alongside Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the figure does not include all the cuts required by sequestration.

“It does impose less reduction and gives us more time,” he added. “Nevertheless, uncertainty persists about what the top line will be for this and any future budget.”

The budget landscape remains uncertain, given ongoing efforts by the White House and Congress to agree on a plan for reducing the national debt. Unless Congress acts to stop sequestration, which took effect in March, the Budget Control Act of 2011 will require nearly $500 billion in cuts from defense over the coming 10 years. Dempsey said this uncertainty has him worried about shortfalls, flexibility and readiness.

“We don’t know yet the full impact or the cost of recovery from readiness shortfalls this fiscal year,” he said. “We have already curtailed or canceled training for many units across the services not about to deploy.”

If approved by Congress and signed into law, the proposed defense budget would take effect Oct. 1.

“What does this budget do? It invests in our priorities. It keeps the force in balance,” Dempsey said. In addition to supporting forward-deployed operations, countering cyber threats and other capabilities essential to defense, “it protects investment in our most decisive advantage, our people,” he said.

“It treats being the best led, trained and equipped military as the non-negotiable imperative,” he added.

As he has in the past, Dempsey called on Congress to carry out its obligation to fully appropriate defense spending so the department can provide the nation the defense it needs.

“We need a predictable funding stream and full flexibility to keep the force in balance,” the chairman said.

Dempsey said that’s the message he’ll relay to Congress tomorrow, when he testifies in the first of a series of budget-related hearings in the coming days.