“If they fail to do that, they run the risk of being unprepared for what is a perfectly foreseeable contingency,” says Todd Harrison, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “There are other options here other than saying, ‘Doomsday,’ folding your cards, and going home.”
There has in fact been some movement on Capitol Hill to exempt the Pentagon from the $487 billion in required cuts, but the appetite for an exemption varies sharply along party lines.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was the lead sponsor a plan unveiled earlier this month to stave off defense cuts under sequester by making up the dollar through a freeze on pay for federal workers. “I believe the cuts are a threat to national security,” he said.
The McCain plan does not have much support among congressional Democrats, however, who may use the sequester threats as leverage to encourage Republicans to drop their resistance to tax hikes on the wealthy. “The purpose of the sequester is to force us to act, to avoid it,” Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in January. The sequester rule "will only succeed if it’s kept intact. It cannot be splintered.”
Such political games of chicken have affected the Pentagon before, which is, perhaps, all the more reason to plan for cuts under the sequester scenario, analysts say.
In 1986, automatic budget cuts in the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act triggered sequestration for the Pentagon, amounting to 5 percent across-the-board cuts.