The foundations of an election-year battle on defense spending are solidifying, now that the defense secretary and the top Republican on defense policy matters are saying what they really think about each other’s budget choices.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta took aim this week at the House for bills that added money to the defense top line and tied the hands of the Pentagon when it comes to reducing its force.
But after reading the transcript of the Pentagon press briefing, House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon fired off a letter, saying Panetta was “clearly operating on some misconceptions.”
Panetta argued that "the guaranteed results" of the Republicans' approach to reducing the deficit – holding the line on defense spending while cutting spending from “the poor, middle-class Americans, homeowners and other vulnerable parts of our American constituencies ... will be confrontation, gridlock” and an increased likelihood that Congress will fail to reach a deal on the deficit. Without one, the Pentagon faces an across-the-board cut in January of more than $500 billion over 10 years.
And Panetta criticized Congress for preventing retirements of ships, reductions in the size of the force and limitations on military health care, saying those decisions risk hollowing the force. “I would strongly urge the Congress to work with us to reach a consensus about our defense priorities, recognizing the budget realities that we face, not the ones that some would like to pretend are not there,” Panetta says.
McKeon contends that the defense authorization bill approved by the HASC last week adds $4 billion to the bill “to address precisely those vulnerabilities.” The letter goes into great detail, explaining lawmakers’ rationale for preserving funding for Air National Guard assets, TRICARE, force structure, Navy cruisers, the Global Hawk Block 30 UAV and the start of a missile defense site in Europe.
McKeon also pointed out that the Republicans built their budget plan precisely to defend national security. “In crafting the budget, House Republicans were careful to identify other non-defense budget sources to accommodate the needed increase in national security accounts while complying with the overall [Budget Control Act] budget targets.”