By Mike Mount
The White House has ordered the military to start planning for the possibility of cutting $500 billion from its budget over the next 10 years as part of the fiscal cliff, Pentagon officials said on Wednesday.
Agency spokesman George Little told reporters that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) instructed the Defense Department to start internal planning for possible spending reductions on top of other cuts already in the pipeline.
The military had been ordered for months not to get ready for the automatic budget cuts - also known as sequestration - related to the fiscal cliff that would hit January 2.
"Naturally, we hope very much that sequestration will be avoided and that we don't enter that phase in early January 2013. We don't want to go off the fiscal cliff, but in consultation with OMB, we think that it is prudent at this stage to begin at least some limited internal planning," Little said.
The fiscal cliff is a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that are due to take effect if the White House and Congress cannot agree on a framework for tackling deficit-reduction by year's end.
As part of a budget agreement in 2011 that allowed the Obama administration to raise the debt ceiling last year, a congressional "super committee" was tasked to find more than $1 trillion in government savings over the next decade, but no solution was reached.
Absent a deal in coming weeks, the Pentagon's share of budget cuts would be $500 billion - about half the government-wide total - over the next decade.
This would come on top of a similar amount in other longer-term spending cuts identified by the Obama administration previously.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said fiscal cliff cuts would destroy the new military strategy the department announced this year that had accounted for the other big Pentagon spending cut.
While the Pentagon has said cuts would not hit troops or their families, it would most likely target most other accounts, including research and technology, weapons and civilian defense department jobs.