McKeon questions Hagel on defense cuts

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“Today, I hope to hear how the president’s budget, which asks for another $120 billion out of defense, will impact our military posture and readiness. Specifically, I’d like to hear which missions we must now abandon, reduce or cancel outright to comply with the president’s budget.”

Hagel emphasized that the Pentagon needed the “partnership of Congress” in order to address the short- and long-term budget challenges the military faces.

“It is already clear to me that achieving significant additional budget savings without unacceptable risk to national security will require not just tweaking or chipping away at existing structures and practices but, if necessary, fashioning entirely new ones that better reflect 21st century realities,” Hagel said. “And that will require the partnership of Congress.”

Hagel and other Pentagon leaders have said the budget is a responsible way to contribute to deficit reduction without harming national security.

The $150 billion, 10-year reduction compared to the 2011 caps in the Budget Control Act is still a smaller cut than the $500 billion the Pentagon faces under sequestration.

President Obama’s budget would avert sequestration through a mix of tax increases and some spending cuts, including to the Defense Department.

Most of the Pentagon’s proposed reductions occur during the latter years, and the Pentagon’s proposed $526.6 billion 2014 budget is roughly equal to the House Republican’s budget plans in 2014.

The Pentagon budget includes several contentious plans to curb costs, including requests for base closures and healthcare increases that were rejected by Congress last year.

Thursday’s hearing with Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey is the first appearance the new Defense secretary is making on Capitol Hill since he was confirmed as  secretary.

Hagel faced a bitter confirmation process where he was opposed by most Republicans, and McKeon came out against his confirmation. 

Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said President Obama’s budget is a responsible attempt to forge a “grand bargain.”

Smith also defended the Pentagon’s plans to trim its budgets by more than $100 billion.

“The proposed defense spending reductions would be far less painful than what the department would absorb under sequestration,” Smith said. “The proposed $119 billion is roughly a quarter of the amount that would be sequestered from the defense budget through fiscal year 2021. Many on this committee voted for the Budget Control Act, which created sequestration.”