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Pentagon brass welcome budget by House GOP

– A massive House Republican measure to keep the government operating would ease some of the pain of automatic spending cuts slamming the Defense Department, the nation’s senior military leaders told Congress on Tuesday.

Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff painted a dire picture of construction projects on hold, limits on aircraft carriers and even a delay in the expansion of Arlington National Cemetery due to the $43 billion in cuts that kicked in Friday.

Problematic for the Pentagon has been the combination of the automatic cuts and the government still operating at last year’s spending levels. The GOP measure unveiled on Monday would give the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments sought-after flexibility in spending that other agencies lack.

The military leaders embraced that prospect, a political boost for the GOP measure just days before the House votes.

“It mitigates at least one-third of our problem,” said Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, who earlier told the panel that the cuts and last year’s spending level had left the service with an $18 billion shortfall in operation and maintenance plus $6 billion in cuts in other programs.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of Naval Operations, said the bill would be “almost night and day,” with a shortfall of $8.6 billion in operations reduced by more than half.

“We can get back to the covenant that we have with the combatant commanders to get almost all of that back,” Greenert told a House Appropriations panel. “We get two carrier overhauls. We get a carrier new construction. ... We get all the military construction.

Marine Corps Gen. James Amos said he was heartened by the legislation.

The GOP measure would fund day-to-day federal operations through September and avert a potential government shutdown this month.

The measure would leave in place automatic cuts of 5 percent to domestic agencies and 7.8 percent to the Pentagon ordered Friday by President Obama after months of battling with Republicans over the budget.

The GOP funding measure is set to advance through the House on Thursday in hopes of preventing a government shutdown when a six-month spending bill passed last September runs out March 27.

Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that bipartisan talks were under way on changes that the Senate would make to the House measure. He said that the House GOP leadership doesn’t expect the Senate to simply approve the House bill without changes.

“There seems to be no interest on either side in having a kind of confrontational government shutdown scenario,” McConnell said.

The administration weighed in Tuesday with a statement criticizing the House GOP measure for failing to provide enough money to implement Obama’s signature legislation to overhaul financial regulation and the U.S. health care system. The statement, however, did not threaten a veto.

The White House said the measure “raises concerns about the government’s ability to protect consumers, avoid deep cuts in critical services that families depend on, and implement critical domestic priorities such as access to quality and affordable health care.”

Senate Democrats want to add more detailed budgets for domestic Cabinet agencies, but it will take GOP help to do so. Both Democrats and Republicans for months have warned that the cuts are draconian and would slow the growth of the economy, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs.

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