House Panel Leader Vows to Stop $500 Billion in Defense Cuts

The chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee chairman said he will introduce legislation to prevent $500 billion in automatic defense budget cuts, after a debt-reduction panel failed to reach agreement.

“I will not be the armed services chairman who presides over crippling our military,” said Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, a California Republican, in a statement today.

Lawmakers on the bipartisan supercommittee formed earlier this year said today they were deadlocked on how to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over a decade, setting the stage for automatic spending cuts for the Defense Department and other agencies.

President Barack Obama said today at the White House that he would veto any move to avoid the automatic cuts. The remarks may put Obama at odds with his Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has raised alarm over cuts in defense beyond those that the Pentagon is planning over the next decade.

The Pentagon already is cutting about $450 billion from its budget over the next 10 years as a result of the budget control act that Obama signed into law Aug. 2. The same measure created the supercommittee.

The panel’s failure to reach an agreement is supposed to automatically increase the defense cuts by an additional $500 billion, excluding interest savings, starting in January 2013.

Stopgap Funding

The Defense Department has been funded at a rate of about $524.5 billion this fiscal year under a stopgap measure because Congress hasn’t yet approved a defense budget. For the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has about $119 billion.

McKeon joins Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona in calling for the reversal of the automatic cuts in defense.

“We are now working on a plan to minimize the impact” of the automatic cuts on the Defense Department, Graham and McCain said in a joint statement today. “The first responsibility of any government is to provide for the common defense; we will pursue all options to make certain that we continue to fulfill that solemn commitment.”

If Republican efforts to reverse the automatic defense cuts fail, the Defense Department’s budget would be reduced about $1 trillion over a decade, the most of any department.

‘Nothing More’

“Our military has already contributed nearly half a trillion to deficit reduction,” McKeon said in his statement. “Those who have given us so much, have nothing more to give.”

Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said in an interview Nov. 8 that he “will do everything to stop” automatic cuts to defense.

Senator Carl Levin, the Democrat from Michigan who leads the Armed Services Committee, also made the case to the supercommittee against additional reductions.

Levin today called on Congress to “create a balanced deficit reduction package that includes revenue as well as spending reductions and avoids unacceptable cuts to education, health care, defense and other vital programs.”

Panetta on Nov. 14 said in a letter to McCain and Graham that cutting $1 trillion from defense could lead to the termination of Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT)’s F-35 jet and would “sharply” reduce the size of the military sharply. At $382 billion, the F-35 is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program.

Personnel Authority

If Obama exercises his authority to exempt military personnel from cuts, other Pentagon programs might be slashed in 2013 by 23 percent, Panetta said. Such funding reductions may mean the end of space initiatives, silo-based U.S. nuclear missiles and a new vehicle for the Army and Marine Corps.

The Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship program might be affected, Panetta wrote. The ship is designed to operate closer to coastlines than existing surface vessels and may be used for clearing mines, hunting submarines and providing humanitarian relief.

“You cannot buy three quarters of a ship or a building,” he wrote the lawmakers, urging them to ensure that Congress finds deficit reduction through other means.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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