Pay of America's Military Caught Up in Political Games Over Spending Cuts

The showdown over who will bear the brunt of deep cuts to government spending has become a game of political poker with the nation's troops caught in the middle, political experts and members of the military say.

As he prepares to leave office, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sounded a dire warning about the need to limit military pay to a 1% increase in 2014, effectively decreasing troop salaries next year, if the automatic cuts, called sequester, go into effect, an agency official told CNN.

"This shadow, the shadow of sequestration, this legislative madness that was designed to be so bad, so bad, that no one in their right mind would let it happen," Panetta said in a speech at Georgetown University on Wednesday.

"For those of you who have ever seen (the movie) 'Blazing Saddles,' it is the scene of the sheriff putting the gun to his head in order to establish law and order. That is sequestration."

The Pentagon has calculated that the Labor Department's 2014 Employment Cost Index is expected to be above 1%, but wants to still reduce pay because of "budget uncertainties," a government official told CNN.

In 2013, a 1.7% increase was approved, based on the index, which has been the basis for military pay for the past several years.

Panetta is stepping up rhetoric about the impact of sequestration on the Pentagon if Congress does not agree to a plan in coming weeks to avert it.

Sequestration would cut across the government, but would hit the Pentagon especially hard. The military would face roughly $500 million in spending cuts over 10 years on top of a similar amount already in the pipeline.

President Barack Obama previously walled off the military from a reduction in pay so if this current compensation plan goes into effect, it's widely seen as "cutting our pay," one military officer familiar with the plan told CNN. "It's a smart move, it puts it in Congress' hands."

Panetta's comments followed Obama's call on Tuesday for a short-term agreement to avert sequestration, which was created by Congress in 2011 to be so draconian that lawmakers would strike a budget deal and avoid the cuts.

But now, the deadline for action is coming up next month and there's no deal in sight.

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