Armed Services chairman balks at Obama's proposed new defense cuts

A key part of President Obama's new deficit-reduction plan is cutting an additional $400 billion from the Pentagon over the next 12 years, but the House Republican in charge of defense isn't backing the idea.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) in an interview airing on C-SPAN's “Newsmakers” on Sunday criticizes the idea.

“I am hoping that was just an opening shot in a presidential campaign,” he said of the Obama proposal, which came during a Wednesday speech Republicans have dismissed as overly partisan.

McKeon said Obama had picked a “number out of a hat,” instead of going to the military and finding out what level of cuts it can support.

He noted the lack of detail in the Obama proposal.

“Where did it come from? Maybe we should ask the military what their goals are,” he said.

This could involve a conscious decision to abandon humanitarian relief missions or no-fly zones such as that established in Libya. But the cuts should proceed from an understanding of the consequences, he said.

Obama's new plan “sets a goal of holding the growth in base security spending below inflation, while ensuring our capacity to meet our national security responsibilities, which would save $400 billion by 2023,” according to a White House fact sheet.

“The President will make decisions on specific cuts after working with [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and the Joint Chiefs on the comprehensive review,” it states.

The new GOP 2012 budget resolution, approved by Republicans on Friday, would cut just $178 billion over 10 years, with $78 billion being used for deficit reduction and the rest being reinvested in the military.

McKeon said he is concerned with having a hollowed-out military such as the U.S. had at the start of World War II, when it scrambled to put poorly trained troops on the ground in North Africa and they became cannon fodder.

He said that he is not against any and all cuts.

“It’s ludicrous to think that out of a $550 billion budget that you can’t find some savings,” he said. “My concern is, when we’re fighting two wars and now engaged also in Libya, it’s not a great time to be cutting the military.”

He also criticized Obama's decisions to end the Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program and the new presidential helicopter. Noting Obama had said he does not need a new helicopter, McKeon said, “it is not about him, it is the presidency.”

He said he would like to reduce the number of personnel involved in Pentagon purchasing, which currently numbers 29,000 officials. He also would look at the number of Pentagon attorneys, currently about 10,000.

On another note, McKeon was asked if he is personally against gays serving in the military. He said he does not have a problem with it, but worries it could be a distraction to the troops. For that reason he wants a closer examination of the consequences.