Panel chair condemns Obama’s defense spending cuts


A powerful US Republican lawmaker criticized the Obama administration’s plan to strip tens of billions of dollars from the Pentagon’s budget and cut troop levels.

Howard “Buck” McKeon, the new chairman of the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, questioned President Barack Obama’s plans to pare US$78 billion from the Pentagon’s core, US$550 billion-plus budget from 2012 through 2016.

The California Republican said he could not ask wartime US forces “to do more with less.”

Congress holds the power of the purse and many members have balked at plans laid out by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to trim arms programs that provide jobs to lawmakers’ districts, despite Republican calls to rein in government spending.

Pentagon spending is just one of the many battles Obama faces when he delivers his fiscal 2012 budget proposal to Congress the week of Feb. 14.

McKeon said at his first hearing as the committee chairman that the United States was at a critical juncture in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He contends that additional spending on arms would be a help the U.S. economy.
“In fact, these investments have the added benefit of spurring the economy and driving the innovation that is the hallmark of this great nation,” he said in a statement after Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.
“I would have liked to hear the President also call for making additional investments in the capabilities and equipment our troops need to successfully complete their missions.”

His fellow Republicans at the hearing opposed plans to roll back US Army and Marine Corps personnel numbers, as Gates proposed Jan. 6.

Gates’ plan would cut up to 47,000 troops from the Army and Marines starting in 2015 after Afghan forces are scheduled to take the lead on security in that country.
“I cannot say it strongly enough,” McKeon said. “I will not support any measures that stress our forces and jeopardize the lives of our men and women in uniform.”

McKeon took over the committee after Republicans won control of the House in the Nov. 2 midterm elections. The Senate remains in the hands of Obama’s fellow Democrats.

The administration plans to ask Congress for a core Pentagon budget of US$553 billion in fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1. Since 2001, the Pentagon’s core, non-war budget has nearly doubled.

US Defence Secretary William Lynn told the committee that the US$78 billion “top-line” reduction would be achieved through a department-wide efficiency drive and other changes that he described as separate from warfighting accounts.

Gates has imposed a freeze on civilian personnel levels in the department through fiscal 2013 as part of the administration’s attempt to cut the federal deficit.

Gates also has proposed to end the Marine Corps’ US$13.2 billion expeditionary fighting (EFV) vehicle, a General Dynamics Corp landing craft program.

He also would end procurement of Raytheon Co “SLAMRAAM” surface-to-air missiles and restructure and delay the purchase of 124 radar-evading Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter aircraft over the next five years.

Lynn said the EFV program would have consumed most of Marine Corps procurement funding for a decade “while providing only a fraction of the needed amphibious assault capability.”

Instead, the Marine Corps will sustain its ability to go from ship to shore by spending money on upgrades of existing vehicles and other initiatives, he said.

Lynn cited several new arms programs that he said would not have been “fiscally possible” in the absence of Gates’ efficiency campaign.

Among these are Air Force plans to develop a new long-range bomber; Army plans to invest in Abrams tanks upgrades, Bradley fighting vehicles and Stryker wheeled vehicles; and Navy plans to buy six more ships than were in last year’s budget request.

Representative Adam Smith of Washington state, the panel’s top Democrat, applauded Gates’ budget plan.