Week ahead: Armed Services to get closer look at defense cuts

After the Pentagon on Thursday announced details of the 2013 budget — the first that will address the 10-year cut — condemnation came swiftly from Republicans.

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House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said the president had “abandoned the defense structure that has protected America for two generations.”

Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the budget “ignores the lessons of history that we have learned time and again by imposing massive cuts to our force structure and the size of the Army and Marine Corps over the next five years.”

Rank-and-file Republicans on the committees didn’t mince words either, setting the stage for contentious debate when the full budget is released Feb. 13.

Armed Services Democrats have defended the new Pentagon strategy — though some of their liberal colleagues are calling for deeper cuts — and they will continue to make that case once hearings on the budget get under way next month.

“It’s a very solid budget, and I strongly support it,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the 2013 budget would cut the base Defense budget to $525 billion from $531 billion in 2012, the first time the budget has dropped since the 1990s.

The Pentagon announcement Thursday provided the first look at the cuts and changes that the Pentagon is making in its 2013 budget. Expect the volume of the rhetoric to rise as members are briefed ahead of the release of the full plan.

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday is going to investigate Afghan soldiers and contractor employees, who are supposed to be allied with International Security Assistance Forces but have killed troops in attacks.

The hearing will examine a March 2011 attack at a U.S. base near Kandahar where an Afghan man hired by a Canadian security contractor killed two American soldiers. One of the soldiers killed, Army Spc. Rudy Acosta, was McKeon’s constituent.

The issue resurfaced this month after French President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to withdraw French forces from Afghanistan early after an Afghan soldier killed four French troops.

On Friday, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on accountability at Arlington National Cemetery in response to the mismarked-grave scandal there.

On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's agenda in the West, along with what the committee calls his recent “tour of tyrants” through South America. The Veterans' Affairs Committee will look at unemployment rates for National Guard soldiers that day.

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