Armed Services panel leaders warn supercommittee against defense cuts

The leaders of the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday urged the congressional debt committee to resist further military cuts, saying they could threaten national security.

In separate letters to the supercommittee, both the GOP chairman and the ranking Democrat warned that defense cuts beyond the $350 billion already in the works would make America less safe.

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“Further reductions could undermine national security,” ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) wrote in his letter. He also noted the Defense Department estimates that $350 billion in cuts would force the Pentagon to “reduce its current budgetary plans and projections by approximately $464 billion over the course of 10 years.”

“The budget function for national defense has already experienced significant reductions,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) wrote in a letter to the panel. Further cuts “would pose a serious threat to the nation’s readiness to respond to current and future global security challenges, break the back of our Armed Forces while slowing our economic recovery, and do little to resolve the debt crisis.”

Friday is the deadline for any House and Senate standing committee to send its deficit-reduction recommendations to the supercommittee. The supercommittee is seeking at least $1.2 trillion in spending cuts under an agreement made in the August debt deal.

McKeon and Smith agreed that any further cuts to the armed services would force the military to alter its force structure or global posture.

“These changes must be carefully examined and evaluated before they can be made, as they would carry considerable risks that may or may not be effectively mitigated,” Smith told the super-panel.

He urged the special committee to avoid any proposals that would “prematurely force the DoD to make what may prove to be precarious strategic adjustments as a result of additional budgetary constraints.”

Additional Pentagon cuts that would force defense officials to slash jobs, combat platforms and shrink things like Army battalions, Air Force bombers and Navy ships should be avoided, McKeon wrote.

“Adjustments such as these are significant enough to necessitate a revision to our commanders’ war fighting plans and the number of missions our force can perform simultaneously, which would compel the nation to reconsider its defense strategy,” McKeon wrote.

McKeon’s letter also urges the special panel to resist, “to the greatest possible extent,” putting forth “multiple simultaneous changes to military retirement and healthcare” that collectively would “impose more sacrifice on the military population than is being asked of any other American.”

Smith and other panel Democrats have issues similar public tones.

While McKeon and Smith agree on those points, they diverge sharply on whether the supercommittee should propose new federal revenues.

Smith, echoing the Democratic Party's stance, wrote that if revenues are not “significantly enhanced, deficit reduction goals must be realized through curtailments of discretionary and non-discretionary spending.”

But other federal programs should not be whacked to shield defense, Smith wrote.

“I strongly urge the Joint Select Committee to propose legislation that embraces revenue increases and that avoids precipitous cuts to programs essential to growth — the engine of our national security.”

McKeon, during a Thursday press briefing, told reporters he intends to “work day and night” to ensure that Congress is not forced to vote on a debt-reduction measure that poses this decision: additional Pentagon cuts or new revenues.

Standing with other committee Republicans, McKeon said: “There is probably no one standing here that would vote for a tax increase.”

The chairman and his GOP colleagues remain firm that the superpanel should find its $1.5 trillion in cuts from entitlement programs.

One of those Republicans standing with McKeon at the briefing was Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), who told reporters the federal government could have funded several annual Pentagon budgets — while also buying a significant amount of combat power beyond that — with the billions spent to bailout American auto firms, as well as financial and housing entities.