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The Pentagon says the number is a $46 billion cut from March 1 to Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2013.

Preparing for the inevitable?

One lingering question: Since the Obama administration knew throughout 2012 that automatic budget cuts would hit the following year, why did it prevent the military from planning and discussing options before the November election? The stopped carrier work, for example, affects workers in the swing state of Virginia.

Some Republicans pressed the chiefs during testimony last week on that question.

“It is unfair for me to try and ascribe a motive to someone else,” Rep. Rob Bishop, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Times. “I have no window into their heart.

“What I was trying to illustrate to them, though, is if they were saying these kinds of specifics of what was going to happen, it would have been the subject of probably every campaign — congressional, senatorial and president campaign — and people would be aware of what this actually meant,” the Utah Republican said. “I can only think either these guys are timid, which I doubt, or this was kind some kind of tactic that they had.”

Mr. Bishop said “it didn’t work” as far as he is concerned because of a disconnect. The Joint Chiefs now are saying that sequestration will be a disaster to the military, yet they did not prepare for such a disaster for virtually all of 2012. Planning began in December, only a month before sequestration originally had been scheduled to begin Jan. 1.

“That message is at cross-purposes,” he said.

Still, Mr. Bishop does not fault the Pentagon for offering up emotion-filled budget items, such as aircraft carriers.

“I’m not critical of them for what they put on the table,” he said.

He said previous cuts have taken $1.5 trillion from projected spending over 10 years, requiring the cutting of troops and weapons. The Budget Control Act, which includes sequestration, will take another $487 billion.

“So what’s left for them to go after is significant personnel or salaries, which is 40 percent of what’s left in the budget,” Mr. Bishop said.

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff, told the committee: “We made a decision in the Department of Defense, which we agreed with, that we would wait on planning, and frankly, that’s because we never thought it would be executed.”