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WASHINGTON — With no sign sequestration will be averted, two top lawmakers are asking Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to provide a plan within months to cut $52 billion out of President Barack Obama’s 2014 defense budget request.

Obama last month sent Congress a $526.6 billion base Pentagon budget request for next year. But the request didn’t take into account a federal law capping the base budget at $475 billion unless a deadlocked Congress finds a way to cut $1.2 trillion from the deficit.

Sequestration in 2013 will slash $37 and $40 billion from the defense budget, and has already caused training rotations to be eliminated, air wings to be grounded and ship deployments canceled, defense officials say.

The prospect of a bipartisan agreement to avert sequestration appears slim, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., wrote in a letter to Hagel sent Thursday.

The pair wrote that “the budgets passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives all assume that we will avoid sequestration in fiscal year 2014. To date, however, there has been virtually no sign of movement toward a bipartisan agreement that would enable us to do so.”

The problem is that many members of Congress and the public see sequestration as an effective way to cut the budget, they wrote.

Levin and Inhofe asked Hagel to submit a package of proposed reductions by July 1, making clear the potential damage that sequestration could cause.

“We recognize that it will not be easy to put together such a package,” they wrote. “In our view, however, a concrete demonstration of the painful choices the Department would have to make to cut $52 billion from its budget may be our last, best hope of avoiding sequestration altogether.”

Hagel has already ordered DOD officials to conduct a “strategic choices and management review,” due May 31, to examine the potential effects of sequestration. In addition to a broad-ranging look at DOD operations, the study will examine whether the Pentagon can meet the requirements of a new strategy that calls for a rebalancing of U.S. power toward Asia. But the review is not intended as a detailed budget cutting package, officials said.

Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins said the department would respond directly to the senator’s request about how to implement sequestration in 2014, a possibility defense leaders are keen to avoid.

“The readiness of our force is rapidly eroding due to mandatory sequestration cuts, and we are deeply concerned about sequestration continuing into the next fiscal year,” Robbins said. Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_


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