McKeon wants to stop sequestration — and previous Pentagon budget cuts

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Wednesday he wants to reverse $487 billion in cuts to the Pentagon’s budget that were included in last summer’s deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) voted for that package, but now says one of his top priorities is to stop those cuts in addition to another $600 billion in Pentagon cuts set to be implemented on Jan. 1.

“I held my nose and voted for the [Budget Control Act], with the hopes that we could fix the serious problems with the bill shortly after,” McKeon said Wednesday in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. “That’s why one of my top priorities is getting that half-trillion dollars back.”

The Budget Control Act cut the federal budget and also created a supercommittee of lawmakers to recommend an additional $1.2 trillion in cuts in a process known as sequestration. 

While many lawmakers in both parties want to prevent the new round of Pentagon cuts set to begin next year, analysts suggest McKeon is being ambitious if he thinks he can prevent the cuts included in the summer debt deal.

Still, McKeon spokesman Claude Chafin said the chairman thinks it is possible to claw back those cuts in the long term—particularly if Republicans hold the House and win back the upper chamber, where Democrats are defending 23 seats.

“He believes that we need to resolve sequestration first, and then build defense resources based on strategy, not a budget deal,” Chafin said.

McKeon’s call parallels the arguments by Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the GOP’s presidential nomination. He has repeatedly criticized cuts in military spending and has said he would vastly increase the size of the Navy and make new investments in national security if elected president.

“President Obama is shrinking our military and hollowing out our national defense,” Romney said in a speech in February.

The cuts are likely to be a point of difference between a GOP presidential candidate and Obama in the fall, though given the nation’s fiscal deficit it would seem difficult for whoever is in the Oval Office to retract the already-approved cuts.

The $487 billion in cuts McKeon wants back have already been budgeted by the Pentagon, and the idea of boosting defense spending back up is one that’s not feasible in the current political environment, analysts say.

"That deal is done," Gordon Adams, a defense analyst at the Stimson Center, said of the $487 billion in cuts.

There would likely be little appetite within the White House or the Pentagon to rehash the existing budget plan to fit McKeon's request, according to Adams, adding that McKeon likely did not clear his plan with the House Republican leadership.

With this proposal, McKeon is essentially "an Army of one," added Loren Thompson, a defense expert at the Lexington Institute.

"With the specter of . . . sequestration hanging over the military budget, it would make more sense for McKeon to find a way of averting that disaster than trying to stave off the inevitable first wave of reductions," he added.