WASHINGTON (AP/ABC7) - U.S. officials say that budget strains will force the Pentagon to cut its aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf area from two carriers to one.
Officials say Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has formally approved a plan to keep just one carrier in the region. There have been two aircraft carrier groups there for most of the last two years.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the Gulf but was brought home in December for maintenance. It will return later this month, but plans for the USS Harry S. Truman to deploy to the Gulf this week have been canceled.
The officials discussed the cuts on condition of anonymity, because the announcement has not been made.
Panetta on Wednesday laid out a grim list of spending cuts the Pentagon will have to make in the coming weeks that he said will seriously damage the country's economy and degrade the military's ability to respond to a crisis.
Slamming members of Congress as irresponsible, Panetta said lawmakers are willing to push the country off a fiscal cliff to damage their opposing political parties.
He said that if Congress doesn't pass a budget the Pentagon will have to absorb $46 billion in spending reductions in this fiscal year and will face a $35 billion shortfall in operating expenses.
"My fear is that there is a dangerous and callous attitude that is developing among some Republicans and some Democrats, that these dangerous cuts can be allowed to take place in order to blame the other party for the consequences," Panetta said in a speech at Georgetown University. "This is a kind of 'so what?' attitude that says, 'Let's see how bad it can get in order to have the other party blink'."
In separate, highly detailed memos sent to Congress, the military services described widespread civilian furloughs, layoffs and hiring freezes that will hit workers all around the country. Overall, the military will furlough 800,000 civilian workers for 22 days, spread across more than five months, and will lay off as many as 46,000 temporary and contract employees.
Wednesday, a group of House and Senate Republicans proposed, instead, cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent.
Representative Kelly Ayotte, (R) New Hampshire, said, "Frankly, our defense should not be used as a bargaining chip because of other policy aspirations that other people want to accomplish."
House Speaker John Boehner called sequestration a bad idea force on Republicans by President Barack Obama.
"I think it's taking a meat axe to our government; a meat axe to many programs that will weaken our national defense. That's why I fought to not have the sequester in the first place," Beohner said.
Experts warn the economic impact of the cuts will be especially felt in the Washington area.
Boehner accused Obama of being too afraid to make tough choices last year when he was running for re-election. But White House officials and senior Democrats insist it was Republican leadership under Beohner who walked away from a deal, they say, leaving sequestration as the only solution.
The Navy says it will cease deployments to South America and the Caribbean and limit those to Europe.
The Air Force warned that it would cut operations at various missile defense radar sites from 24 hours to eight hours. And the Army said it would cancel training center rotations for four brigades and cancel repairs for thousands of vehicles, radios and weapons.
"These steps would seriously damage the fragile American economy, and they would degrade our ability to respond to crisis precisely at a time of rising instability across the globe," Panetta said, adding that the self-made crisis "undermines the men and women in uniform who are willing to put their lives on the line in order to protect this country."
In addition to all of the more immediate cuts, U.S. troops are also likely to see a smaller pay hike next year than initially planned, due to strains on the budget. According to a defense official, the Pentagon will recommend that the military get a 1 percent pay increase in 2014, instead of a 1.7 percent raise.
The Georgetown appearance was likely one of Panetta's last speeches. He is set to leave the Pentagon this month. Former Republican senator Chuck Hagel has been nominated to take his place and a vote by the Senate Armed Services Committee is expected this week.