Repub­li­cans seek a ceil­ing on com­mit­tee’s de­fense cuts

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

Repub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill are float­ing the idea of a ceil­ing for de­fense cuts man­dated by the deficit-re­duc­tion su­per­com­mit­tee that would not ex­ceed $150 bil­lion over 10 years.

Con­gres­sional sources said the $150 bil­lion fig­ure is cited of­ten in pri­vate talks among staffers but is by no means fi­nal.

In fact, sev­eral Repub­li­cans say they will op­pose fur­ther Pen­tagon bud­get re­duc­tions, af­ter last month’s Bud­get Con­trol Act pared $340 bil­lion of de­fense spend­ing from 2013 to 2021.

If the $150 bil­lion were to be­come re­al­ity, it would mean nearly $500 bil­lion in mil­i­tary spend­ing re­duc­tions over that pe­riod.

“The $500 bil­lion is the se­cret num­ber,” said a de­fense in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tive who spoke with con­gres­sional staffers last week. “That’s about as far as Repub­li­cans will go be­fore they walk. Find $150 bil­lion in fat and waste.”

The 12-mem­ber su­per­com­mit­tee is charged with find­ing $1.5 tril­lion in tax in­creases and/or spend­ing cuts over the next 10 years.

If the bi­par­ti­san panel fails to agree on a plan this year, au­to­matic cuts to de­fense and do­mes­tic pro­grams would take ef­fect.

The de­fense in­dus­try source said the Repub­li­can strat­egy would be to re­ject the com­mit­tee’s plan if it ex­ceeds $150 bil­lion and then see if the bud­get act’s au­to­matic cuts take ef­fect or if the com­mit­tee re­lents on de­fense.

A con­gres­sional staffer told The Washington Times: “That’s the num­ber float­ing around, but I’m not sure how cer­tain that dol­lar amount ac­tu­ally is.”

The au­to­matic cuts would shrink de­fense spend­ing by an additional $454 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to a Sept. 12 Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice re­port, bring­ing the to­tal to about $800 bil­lion. To­tal cuts to se­cu­rity, in­clud­ing the State Depart­ment and Home­land Se­cu­rity, would likely reach $1 tril­lion.

The Joint Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Deficit Re­duc­tion, as the su­per­com­mit­tee is for­mally called, is ex­pected to re­ceive brief­ings next month from Congress’ de­fense com­mit­tees on what op­tions ex­ist.

The Pen­tagon is now in the throes of a “bud­get drill,” com­ing up with ini­tial cuts in the 2013 bud­get sub­mit­ted to Congress in Fe­bru­ary and tack­ling sce­nar­ios for smaller, long-term spend­ing.

The Army, for ex­am­ple, is look­ing at elim­i­nat­ing soldiers by tak­ing down five to eight Bri­gade Com­bat Teams. The Navy could can­cel its next-gen­er­a­tion bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­ma­rine, ac­cord­ing to de­fense in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives.

The six-Repub­li­can, six-Demo­crat su­per­com­mit­tee in­cludes Sen. Jon Kyl of Ari­zona, one of the GOP’s most pro-de­fense leg­is­la­tors. Mr. Kyl two weeks ago said he would quit the panel if it starts ne­go­ti­at­ing arms spend­ing re­duc­tions.

Rep. Dun­can Hunter of Cal­i­for­nia, a mem­ber of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, is one of sev­eral Repub­li­cans who say the su­per­com­mit­tee should im­mu­nize the Pen­tagon against more cuts.

“The de­fense bud­get has al­ready taken a ma­jor hit,” said Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper.

“It can’t take much more.We are on the verge of mak­ing a bad sit­u­a­tion even worse, and law- mak­ers need to think long and hard be­fore they put their name be­hind any additional cuts in de­fense.”

Repub­li­cans have asked the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to present a new strat­egy for what spe­cific mis­sions it wants the mil­i­tary to re­tain or re­lin­quish, un­der the pres­sure of less spend­ing. The Pen­tagon now spends about $530 bil­lion an­nu­ally, not count­ing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The point is, it’s a ter­ri­ble idea to cut spend­ing when we don’t know if we are mak­ing the nec­es­sary in­vest­ment in de­fense to be­gin with,” Mr. Kasper said.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McK­eon, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can and chair­man of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said last week the su­per­com­mit­tee is set­ting up Repub­li­cans for votes to ei­ther raise taxes or slash de­fense.

“Folks, it is im­pos­si­ble to pay our en­ti­tle­ment tab with the Pen­tagon’s credit card,” Mr. McK­eon said.

Democrats are more will­ing to take on the Pen­tagon. Rep. Bar­ney Frank, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat, has pro­posed $1 tril­lion in cuts over 10 years.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta has warned of a “hol­low force” if au­to­matic, across-the­board cuts bom­bard the Pen­tagon.

In a re­lated mat­ter, the Aero­space In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion and top ex­ec­u­tives from com­pa­nies such as Boe­ing and Pratt & Whit­ney said re­duc­tions be­yond the 10-year, $350 bil­lion cut in this sum­mer’s debt ac­cord would have a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on the de­fense in­dus­try, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

(From left) Sen­a­tors Patty Murray, Sen. Jon Kyl, Max Bau­cus, Robert Port­man and John Kerry par­tic­i­pate in a Joint Deficit Re­duc­tion Com­mit­tee meet­ing on Sept. 8.

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