Despite the hopes of U.S. defense industry advocates to stave off steep cuts to the Pentagon, the military-minded have scant representation so far on a new 12-member congressional panel tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction this year.
That is not to say congressional military policy-making committees were completely shut out.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) tapped Ohio Republican Rob Portman. But Portman, a freshman and newcomer to the Senate Armed Services Committee, was named for his expertise on budget matters. He was President George W. Bush’s budget director.
McConnell also named Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), who led a fight against the Obama administration last year over the New Start nuclear arms treaty with Russia and is a frequent advocate of spending on strategic missile defense and nuclear programs. But Kyl, part of Senate GOP leadership, has announced his pending retirement after this term. Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), another freshman and a tea party darling, was McConnell’s other choice.
In his statement announcing the members, McConnell stressed the importance of entitlements and taxes—not defense.
“My main criteria for selecting members was to identify serious, constructive senators who are interested in achieving a result that helps to get our nation’s fiscal house in order,” McConnell says. “That means reforming entitlement programs that are the biggest drivers of our debt, and reforming the tax code in a way that makes us more competitive and leads to more American jobs.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not heed appeals from the House Armed Services Committee to appoint one of its members to the so-called super committee. His three choices include House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (Mich.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (Mich.).
So far, the biggest defense supporters come from the Democratic side of the aisle. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appointed Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), a member of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee and staunch supporter of. Reid also chose Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), a Vietnam combat veteran who has been on the defensive over military matters since his bruising presidential campaign against Bush in 2004, and Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
As of midday Aug. 10, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had yet to announce her three appointees to the super committee. All appointees are supposed to be named within the coming days.
The super committee, as it was quickly nicknamed in Washington, was set up in the deal struck early this month by Congress and the White House to raise the debt ceiling.
The ad hoc committee must forward legislation to Congress by Nov. 23 that lawmakers in both chambers must pass by Dec. 23. If Congress or the committee fails to act, automatic reductions that are unpalatable to both Republicans and Democrats will be handed down. That includes an additional $500 billion or more to security programs, meaning the total, 10-year reduction to security budgets—starting with the Pentagon’s—could reach about $880 billion.