Armed Services Chairman McKeon blasts Panetta over defense budget cuts

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) blasted President Obama’s new defense budget, accusing it of putting the U.S. military at risk of losing its superiority.

“The president must understand that the world has always had, and will always have, a leader,” McKeon said at Wednesday’s hearing on the 2013 budget. “As America steps back, someone else will step forward.”

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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey defended the budget Wednesday before McKeon’s committee, echoing the same themes they outlined before the Senate on Tuesday.

“This is a responsible investment in our nation’s security,” Dempsey said.

McKeon, however, accused Obama’s new military strategy of being driven by budget cuts, not the other way around. The Pentagon’s budget will be cut by $487 billion over the next decade.

“An honest and valid strategy for national defense can’t be founded on the premise that we must do more with less, or even less with less,” he said. “The administration appears committed to ensuring the military is the only sector of the federal government to meaningfully contribute to deficit reduction.”

Democrats, however, praised the defense budget, which they said was in line with the Budget Control Act that Congress passed mandating the cuts.

“We can rationally evaluate our national security strategy, our defense expenditures and the current set of missions we ask the military to undertake and come up with a strategy that enhances national security by spending taxpayer dollars more wisely and effectively,” said Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.).

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) pushed Panetta on how much of the new strategy was based on budget cutting and how much was based on the strategic military shift.

Panetta said a new strategy would have been needed with the drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“This is not just deficit reduction,” Panetta said.

McKeon asked Panetta to support his bill to avoid the first year of sequestration — which would hit the defense budget with an additional $500 billion cut starting in January 2013. McKeon’s bill, which Democrats have panned, would cut the federal workforce by 10 percent over the next decade through attrition.

Panetta said he does wish to work with McKeon to avoid sequestration, though he did not explicitly support the chairman’s legislation.

He said he wants to do “whatever we can do on both sides to try to develop an approach that would de-trigger sequestration and avoid that kind of horrific result.”