Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Wednesday offered support for a presidential veto of any congressional budget plans that leave sequestration caps in place — even if the Defense Department gets everything it's asking for.
The statement, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing, drew immediate criticism from Republicans, several of whom have pushed for ways to boost military spending in fiscal 2016 while leaving the budget caps in place for non-defense spending.
Carter argued that exempting only defense spending is "no way to run the government" and argued that cuts to State Department and Homeland Security programs would have ripple effects on military operations and national security.
"We need the end of sequestration across the board," he said. "What we need for defense … is stability."
He also panned plans released by the House Budget Committee a day earlier that would boost increase spending in fiscal 2016 by adding to the military's overseas contingency operations accounts.
For fiscal 2016, the White House has asked for a $561 billion base defense budget — which would be $38 billion over the mandatory sequestration caps — and a $51 billion overseas contingency operations fund.
The House budget plan tops that combined total by about $6 billion, but puts $94 billion in the temporary war fund, a move critics have panned as an accounting gimmick.
Carter said simply bumping up the total dollars for defense without eliminating sequestration caps for years to come doesn't solve his department's budget headaches.
"It doesn't work because to have the defense we need and the strategy we need, we also need the budget we have laid out," Carter said. "It's not just for one year, but for the years to come. That's not where we asked for the money, and that's not where we need it. If it's in the base budget, that's the base where we build our future defense budgets."
The comments irked several members, who said Carter's focus should be on protecting military resources and readiness, not advancing the Obama administration's non-defense agenda.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said Carter's position would create "a crisis for national defense" to protect agencies like the EPA and IRS. "I find that a travesty," he said.
Leaders on the House and Senate Armed Services committees have promised to undo the four-year-old mandatory spending caps before they go into effect again this fall, but no likely compromise plan has yet emerged.
Carter and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, both reiterated Pentagon warnings that failing to repeal the caps would create significant readiness and resource gaps, and jeopardize the services' ability to maintain the U.S.'s military superiority.