A key Senate committee called for cutting the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2012 defense budget request by $26 billion yesterday, as the end of the fiscal year neared and a deficit panel prepared to weigh additional budget cuts today.

The Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) set its so-called 302(b) allocations for its appropriations bills yesterday for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. It wants to give the Pentagon $513 billion, or $26 billion below the White House’s initial request of $539 billion; that amount of the request increases to $553 billion while military-construction funding is factored in.

The SAC is the first panel to officially unveil a proposal for the Pentagon’s FY ’12 budget since President Barack Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 on Aug. 2.

The White House said the law cuts $350 billion in defense-related spending over the next decade, though the act itself does not set reduced funding levels for the Pentagon. Instead, it caps so-called “security” funding–which includes the Pentagon and the departments of homeland security, state, and veterans affairs, along with other related spending–for the first two years. The FY ’12 figure is $684 billion.

Before the new law was signed, lawmakers had already weighed in on the defense budget for the coming fiscal year. The House passed a defense authorization bill, crafted by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), that would not cut the FY ’12 Pentagon request, while the chamber also passed a defense appropriations bill that would trim the proposal by $9 billion. The Senate Armed Services Committee also prepared its defense authorization bill with a $5.9 billion cut to the Pentagon’s request, though that figure is expected to be revised before the full Senate weighs the bill.

The SAC approved the size of its defense bill when it set its 302(b) allocations yesterday, though it has not yet marked up the actual Pentagon spending legislation. SAC Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said yesterday the $79.2 billion in cuts his panel had to make to the White House’s request for the 12 federal funding bills are “real and are difficult to implement.”

“Valuable programs have been curtailed to fit within these lower levels,” he said.

Inouye, who also chairs the SAC’s defenses subcommittee, noted the chamber will only be in session for three more weeks before Oct. 1 starts. Some lawmakers predict that when FY ’12 starts the defense budget will be covered for some time by a continuing resolution (CR) maintaining funding at FY ’11 levels.

HASC Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) told congressional reporters yesterday he does not see any way the FY ’12 defense appropriations bill will pass by Oct. 1, and that a CR will be needed until Congress and the White House approve the legislation.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 calls for a second round of budget cuts that will be decided, or at least impacted by, the new Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. The 12-member congressional panel will meet for the first time today and hold its first hearing next Tuesday. It is charged with finding up to $1.5 trillion in additional long-term government savings by Nov. 23. If it can’t craft a plan that passes the full Congress by Dec. 23, automatic longterm cuts of $1.2 trillion would kick in starting in 2013, with half coming from the Pentagon budget.

Meanwhile, the HASC plans to resume its hearings today, starting up again after  the August congressional recess.

The committee’s new Panel on Defense Financial Management and Auditability Reform will hear about DoD audit efforts from service-level financial officials, and the full committee will receive testimony on the future of national defense and the military 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks from former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.