The move marks a reversal for President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., both of whom spoke dismissively in recent days of Republican plans for flexibility in administering the cuts.
"The problem is when you're cutting $85 billion in seven months, which represents over a 10 percent cut in the defense budget in seven months, there's no smart way to do that," the president said Feb. 26 in Newport News, Va.
"You don't want to have to choose between, Let's see, do I close funding for the disabled kid or the poor kid? Do I close this Navy shipyard or some other one?"
Asked last week whether he would agree to flexibility, Reid said: "No, why would I? I don't have a reason to do so."
Pentagon officials embraced flexibility even before the measure came to a vote in the House.
The difference for the Navy is "almost night and day," the service's top uniformed officer told Congress on Tuesday. With flexibility, said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, work could proceed on the overhaul of two aircraft carriers and construction on a third, all projects that the Pentagon had said would be curtailed without any changes.
The Pentagon did not immediately say whether it also would be able to order the USS Harry S. Truman to the Persian Gulf region, a mission it announced earlier would fall victim to the cuts.
Whatever the eventual impact of the spending cuts, the long-running struggle between the parties over deficits soon will shift to rival budgets under preparation by House Republicans and Senate Democrats.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, told reporters his plan would make relatively modest changes compared with last year's blueprint, yet project an end to federal deficits in a decade's time. The plan leaves in place $600 billion in higher taxes on the wealthy that Congress approved on New Year's Day over the objection of many rank and file Republicans.