WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel rejected the suggestion that President Barack Obama tapped him to “cut the heart out of the Pentagon,” reminding lawmakers Thursday that Congress approved the smaller, deficit-driven military budgets long before he took the job.
Faced with a $487 billion budget cut over a decade, Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon had no choice in drawing up the politically unpopular reductions in the president’s proposed budget for next year.
The blueprint calls for another round of domestic base closures, higher health-care fees for retirees and their dependents, and a smaller pay raise for personnel.
Cost-conscious lawmakers have clamored for fiscal austerity in a period of trillion-dollar deficits, but often balk when the cuts hit military bases in their home states or affect powerful veterans’ groups.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, questioned Hagel on what his role is, managing the decline in defense spending or warning of the dangers of military cuts.
“There is a widespread view that you were brought into the Pentagon to cut defense,” Thornberry told Hagel.