McKeon slams Panetta critique of House defense bill

In a four-page letter sent to Panetta on Friday, McKeon noted the defense secretary was "clearly operating under some misconceptions" regarding the $643 billion defense spending package passed by the committee early Thursday morning. 

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The defense authorization bill drafted by McKeon's committee upends the delicate balance DOD struck between the department's dire fiscal situation and its need to meet critical national security demands in the initial proposal sent to Congress in February, Panetta said on Thursday. 

"When Congress restores funds to protect particular constituencies ... then they risk upending the kind of careful balance that we've worked very hard to achieve," Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon. 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey warned House members to "make the right choice" on defense spending as the full House prepared to take up McKeon's bill next week. 

"Before giving us weapons we don't need or giving up on reforms that we do need, I would only ask to make sure it's the right choice, not just for our armed forces, but for the nation," the four-star general said during Thursday's press conference. 

However, McKeon shot back in Friday's letter, pointing out his committee did not add anything to the budget that Panetta or the department had not asked for in the run up to the committee's mark. 

The funding increases included in his committee's version of the bill addressed roughly $250 billion in White House-mandated defense spending cuts that Panetta had told the House panel would take DOD "right to the razor's edge," McKeon wrote. 

The bill authorized $554 billion in base Pentagon spending, an increase of $3.7 billion over the budget request from the president and $88.5 billion for overseas contingency operations (OCO). 

"As you and I have discussed, and as you have testified to my committee, those [cuts] . . . cut through any fat that may have existed in the defense budget and into the muscle," McKeon wrote. "The . . . funding that my committee restored is applied to address precisely those vulnerabilities." 

The California Republican also took Panetta to task on his assertion that members' parochial interests took much needed funds from critical defense programs outlined by DOD. 

"I did not allow members to 'tuck' pet projects into larger accounts that would force you to make [unnecessary] tradeoffs," McKeon wrote. 

The committee's decision to funnel billions of dollars into missile defense programs and keep several weapon systems DOD had pegged for retirement in the U.S. arsenal were all made with bipartisan support, according to McKeon. 

The defense bill passed the committee by a 56-5 vote along party lines. Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), John Garamendi (D-Calif.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) were the only no votes on the legislation.