March 1 (Bloomberg) -- Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee demanded that defense programs be spared from cuts under any compromise to reverse $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending reductions that begin today.
Under the automatic cuts called sequestration, the Pentagon must shoulder about $46 billion in cuts from previously planned spending in the remaining seven months of this fiscal year and about $500 billion over a decade.
The Pentagon has already withstood earlier rounds of spending cuts that threaten U.S. military readiness, so White House and congressional negotiators should turn to other areas of the budget, including Social Security and Medicare, to help curb deficits, said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon. He spoke as President Barack Obama met at the White House with congressional leaders, including Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
“We are telling the president and John Boehner, when you walk out of that meeting this morning, don’t plan on cutting our national defense one more cent,” McKeon, a California Republican, said at a news conference today in the Capitol. He was flanked by half a dozen other Republicans on the panel, which is dominated by lawmakers in both parties from districts that benefit from defense contracts and military bases.
Lawmakers and officials including former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have warned that sequestration threatens the combat readiness of U.S. forces and risks creating a “hollowed out” force.
A group of defense analysts challenged such claims today on a conference call with reporters.
“This is relatively mild compared to some previous drawdowns in defense spending,” said Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. “This is bad policy, this is not a way to run your government, but this is not going to make us a second-rate power by any means.”
Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, said of sequestration: “You can do it without really impacting our readiness to deal with the threats that we face.”
Some Republican lawmakers also have said that the Pentagon can absorb sequestration in the name of paring the federal deficit. Asked about that split within his party, McKeon said the members of his panel are the experts on defense because they have more access to military leaders and can see how cuts would hurt their districts.
“We have the greater knowledge of the impact of these cuts on our national security,” McKeon said.
McKeon and other Republicans on the Armed Services Committee laid the blame for the impending across-the-board cuts on Obama and Senate Democrats.
“I have never in my lifetime seen such a lack of leadership and truth-telling emanating from the White House and from our commander-in-chief,” McKeon said.
Republicans have rejected Democrats’ call for higher taxes on top earners to replace a portion of the spending reductions.
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