Republicans say raising new tax revenue is out of the question and want to replace the defense part of the sequester with deeper cuts to other domestic programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans also say the federal budget must be balanced within 10 years, which would require far greater cost-cutting than the sequester.
The Pentagon memo was the latest in a long line of warnings about potential furloughs, which would not start until April because of a required notice period. Many details of who would be furloughed, on what days and for how long would be subject to bargaining with public employee unions.
The 20 percent pay cut would hit civilian defense employees hard, union officials said.
“Taking away one day’s pay every week could mean the difference between covering the mortgage and putting food on the table,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 270,000 civilian defense workers.
“It really scares the hell out of me,” said a Pentagon official who has worked for the government for more than 12 years.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, said he is particularly worried about making ends meet this year. “It’s going to affect my retirement and now I have a new baby, so my expenses are going to go up with day care and formula and diapers and everything else.”
Dave Miller, a Pentagon intelligence analyst, said that “cutting salaries is like cutting people. It’s the lifeblood of the department.”
“Our younger folks are really going to be hurt by this significantly,” he said. “They just want to do their jobs.”
Pentagon chiefs have been warning in recent days that the reductions are likely to significantly weaken the readiness of a force reeling from the wear and tear of two long wars. If the budget is cut according to the congressional guidelines, by the end of the year, Hale said, two thirds of the Army’s brigade combat teams will be unfit for deployment.
“It could affect their ability to deploy to new contingencies that come up, or even, if it goes on long enough, to Afghanistan.”
Panetta held out hope in the memo that the cuts might be avoided. Even if a deal between the White House and Republicans doesn’t materialize by March 1, when the automatic cuts will take effect, the parties could reach an agreement that spares the Pentagon.
Steve Vogel, Lisa Rein and David Nakamura contributed to this report.