House Armed Services chair says he will reverse DoD cuts

Wednesday - 3/14/2012, 3:00pm EDT

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has already made it clear he will do all he can to avoid the prospect of further Defense Department cuts under the "sequestration" process. He now says he wants to reverse the cuts the Defense Department has already proposed in its 2013 budget.

In remarks before an audience Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said the defense cuts already approved by Congress and incorporated by DoD into its budget plans already "cut the fat and past the muscle, now we're cutting into the bone."

McKeon was referring to the $487 billion in reductions to previously-planned five-year spending that Congress approved last year as part of the deal to end the stalemate over raising the nation's debt ceiling. The cutbacks contained in the Budget Control Act, which McKeon voted for, have already been incorporated into DoD's five-year spending plan after a high-level reassessment of the department's roles and missions.

"I held my breath and voted for the BCA, with the hopes that we could fix the serious problems with the bill shortly after," McKeon said in remarks prepared for delivery in Simi Valley. "That's why one of my top priorities is getting that half a trillion dollars back. The taxpayers rightly demanded that everything should be on the table for deficit reductions. I agree. But explain to me why defense is less than 20 percent of federal budget, but has accounted for half of our spending cuts to date. Taxpayers said ‘cut the fat out of defense.' We did that."

McKeon already has proposed canceling the further cuts that would happen under sequestration, the scenario DoD leaders have said would "devastate" the military through another $492 billion tranche of defense cuts. His legislation would offset the first year of sequestration by cutting the federal civilian workforce. Companion Senate legislation has been introduced by Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl.

McKeon said his committee's 2013 Defense authorization bill would "properly resource" items the Pentagon chose to forego in its 2013 budget proposal. He also vowed to replace military equipment that had been "chewed up" in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and to fight DoD's proposal to raise health insurance fees for retirees covered by TRICARE.

"Recent proposals to pump up military health care fees by up to 300 percent are absolutely unacceptable," he said. "When our troops made a decision to volunteer for service, they entered a sacred agreement with this government. Part of that agreement was that their medical needs will be met. We made a solemn covenant with them — we cannot, and we must not break it."

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