Mil­i­tary panel likely to get Adam Smith – and his de­sire for bud­get cuts – as chair­man

The News Tribune - - Nation & World - BY KELLEN BROWN­ING kbrown­ing@mc­


Rep. Adam Smith, a Washington Demo­crat, is set to head a pow­er­ful com­mit­tee that sets pol­icy for the U.S. mil­i­tary – and make a push to cut de­fense spend­ing.

Smith is cur­rently the top Demo­crat on the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. Be­cause Democrats won a House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives ma­jor- ity Tues­day, Smith is ex­pected to be­come the panel’s chair­man in Jan­uary.

In Oc­to­ber, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion told the Depart­ment of De­fense to ex­pect a cut for the 2020 fis­cal year, which be­gins Oct. 1, 2019, that would shrink its bud­get from $716 bil­lion in 2019 to $700 bil­lion.

Smith said in Septem­ber that $716 bil­lion was excessive.

“It is pre­ma­ture to dis­cuss num­bers for the de- fense bud­get now, when a new Congress hasn’t even been formed,” Smith told McClatchy on Fri­day.

“How­ever, it is my firm be­lief that, given the $22 tril­lion debt and tril­lion­dol­lar deficit pro­duced by the Repub­li­cans’ tax cuts, the Pen­tagon is go­ing to have less money in the fu­ture. We need to scrub the de­fense bud­get to bet­ter re­flect that re­al­ity,” he said.

Dan Gra­zier, a Marine Corps vet­eran who re­searches the mil­i­tary for the Project on Gov­ern­ment Over­sight, a non­par­ti­san watch­dog or­ga­ni­za­tion, cau­tioned not to ex­pect many changes to mil­i­tary fund­ing un­der Smith.

De­spite the per­cep­tion that Democrats want to cut de­fense spend­ing, he said, the Demo­crat­ic­con­trolled Congress at the begin­ning of for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s first term passed the costli­est de­fense bud­gets in years.

“Part of it is, I think, that un­for­tu­nately Demo-

crats are a lit­tle con­cerned about be­ing re­ally soft on de­fense,” said Gra­zier, who said a mil­i­tary fund­ing cut would rein in the Pen­tagon’s “ir­re­spon­si­ble” spend­ing de­ci­sions.

Smith did say that he wants to curb nu­clear weapon spend­ing.

“We need to ... rec­og­nize that the cur­rent $1.5 tril­lion plan to build new nu­clear weapons and up­grade our nu­clear weapons com­plex is un­re­al­is­tic and unaffordable,” he said in a state­ment. “Fo­cus­ing on Pres­i­dent Trump’s new nu­clear arms race would in­crease the risk of mis­cal­cu­la­tion, wreck the bud­get, and de­tract from our abil­ity to in­vest in cy­ber, in­for­ma­tion op­er­a­tions and our troops.”

Smith also wants to spearhead an ef­fort to root out mis­man­age­ment of mil­i­tary spend­ing.

“We know there is waste in the Pen­tagon’s bud­get. It’s our job to find it,” he said. “We also need to make sure the Pen­tagon can be au­dited so we know how the money is be­ing used.”

In pol­icy mat­ters, Smith’s views on who should be al­lowed to join the mil­i­tary con­trast starkly with Trump’s. In 2017, Trump an­nounced a pol­icy ban­ning most trans­gen­der peo­ple from serv­ing. Courts have blocked the ban.

“We need to make sure that our mil­i­tary can at­tract the best, most talented peo­ple by elim­i­nat­ing ar­bi­trary and dis­crim­i­na­tory bar­ri­ers that nar­row the field of qual­i­fied peo­ple who can serve their coun­try,” Smith said.

Even if Smith is se­ri­ous about want­ing to cut spend­ing, Gra­zier said, Democrats have only so much power in a di­vided gov­ern­ment. Repub­li­cans will still con­trol the Se­nate next year.

“When you’re in the op­po­si­tion, he def­i­nitely talks a good game, as does ev­ery­body,” Gra­zier said. “It re­mains to be seen what he does when he’s in charge.”

Gra­zier said it’s more likely that Smith will scru­ti­nize how cur­rent bud­get al­lo­ca­tions are be­ing used by the mil­i­tary. Smith’s goal of con­duct­ing an au­dit of the Pen­tagon aligns with Trump’s.

Smith has ex­pe­ri­ence deal­ing with and rep­re­sent­ing mem­bers of the mil­i­tary. His Washington dis­trict, which now en­com­passes Belle­vue and parts of Seat­tle and Ta­coma, used to in­clude Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the largest mil­i­tary base on the West Coast.

Repub­li­can Don An­der­son, the mayor of Lake­wood, a town ad­ja­cent to Lewis-McChord, said Smith has re­mained in­volved with the base and would be a strong choice for Armed Ser­vices chair­man.

“He’s very smart, and he is par­tic­u­larly wellinformed with re­spect to de­fense is­sues, and has been for some time,” said An­der­son, a Navy vet­eran.

An­der­son ad­mires Smith’s will­ing­ness to sup­port is­sues that are un­pop­u­lar, such as an­other round of mil­i­tary Base Re­align­ment and Clo­sure. Even though Lake­wood’s econ­omy is bol­stered by its prox­im­ity to a base, An­der­son doesn’t see Lewis-McChord as be­ing tar­geted. And he thinks clo­sures of un­nec­es­sary bases are nec­es­sary to free money for more im­por­tant causes.

“The ma­jor­ity of our coun­cil’s vet­er­ans, my­self in­cluded, have been out there when there wasn’t enough jet fuel to fly the planes,” he said. “If you can take that money and ap­ply it to readi­ness, our sol­diers and sailors can do the na­tion’s busi­ness and come home safer.”

Demo­cratic state Rep. Kris­tine Reeves, who lives in Smith’s dis­trict, likes that Smith wants to hold the Depart­ment of De­fense fis­cally ac­count­able.

“I think there’s an as­sump­tion if you’re a promil­i­tary sup­porter that you’re go­ing to be proDoD and do what­ever they say,” said Reeves, who co-chairs a mil­i­tary com- mit­tee in the state leg­is­la­ture. But Smith is “very fo­cused on prob­lem-solv­ing over par­ti­san pol­i­tics.”

Kellen Brown­ing, 202-383-6102, @kel­len_brown­ing

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