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Incoming Congress likely to revisit sequestration

| Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, 5:30 p.m.

Military supporters are counting on an incoming Republican-led Congress to roll back Defense spending cuts required by a 2011 budget agreement, but it might not be that simple.

First, they'll have to get past Jeff Sessions and his allies.

The Alabama Republican, who is in line to take over the Senate Budget Committee in January, and other lawmakers seeking to lower the deficit say they aren't convinced the Pentagon needs more money. Even if they agree, restoring funds to the military would require comparable cuts to domestic programs, which Democrats reject.

“I'm going to be pushing to examine what their needs are,” Sessions, who plans a series of hearings, said. “We don't want to add additional monies until we know what we want to add it for and be sure that we need it.”

Although most major legislation has been stalled in Congress for four years, some budget analysts say they are optimistic that GOP leaders will at least try to reduce the $35 billion in automatic defense cuts slated for the fiscal year starting in October. The Pentagon says those reductions would affect popular programs and personnel.

The automatic cuts in the 2011 budget deal, known as sequestration, are a potential area for compromise because they're unpopular with both parties, and the deficit that triggered them has shrunk by two-thirds since 2009. Sequestration slashes $1.1 trillion in spending through 2021, divided equally between domestic and defense programs.

Hostilities in Ukraine, the beheadings of Americans in Syria and a bigger military footprint in Iraq could sway lawmakers to support more Pentagon spending. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work recently asked Congress to “stop this madness.”

“What's happening in terms of the security situation of this country will hopefully change people's minds,” said Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican who voted against the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The debate will occur in a Congress controlled by Republicans. The party swept both chambers in the Nov. 4 election, which will empower lawmakers who, like Sessions, are committed to reducing the budget deficit.

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