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Armed Services Leaders Differ over Strategies for Dodging Defense Cuts

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  • October 13, 2011
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The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Armed Services Committee urged the congressional deficit reduction committee Thursday to resist slashing defense spending beyond the $450 billion in cuts agreed to under August’s debt ceiling deal, stressing that the military already has taken on its fair share of budgetary savings.

“Further reductions could undermine national security,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking member, wrote in his letter.

In a separate letter, Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) echoed Smith’s concern about the prospect that the deficit panel would target the Defense Department as it looks for $1.2 trillion in savings over the next 10 years: “We share your goal of federal deficit reduction and agree with its critical importance; however, from a constitutional perspective, we would argue that not all elements of the federal budget are equal.”

Last month, House Armed Services released an analysis of the consequences of cutting the department’s budget by $1.0 trillion, a worst-case scenario requiring the Pentagon to trim the nation’s forces by 200,000 ground troops.

The two leaders disagreed, though, on how the deficit panel should meet its savings target.

Smith argued that shifting the burden to other discretionary and mandatory spending accounts “would be an unacceptable outcome” that also would damage the country. “Therefore, I strongly urge the Joint Select Committee to propose legislation that embraces revenue increases and that avoids precipitous cuts to programs essential to growth — the engine of our national security,” he recommended.

At a press briefing, McKeon pointed to entitlement programs as the appropriate focus for reducing the deficit. He told reporters he intends to “work day and night” to ensure that lawmakers are not forced to choose between agreeing to additional defense cutbacks or tax increases, reported The Hill newspaper.

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