By Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy
The final three members of the 12-member so-called "super committee" on deficit reduction were announced Thursday, but there are not a slew of pro-defense lawmakers on the panel charged with tackling the next stage of the national debt debate.
Two are well-known supporters of defense issues, but only one of the 12 is a member of an armed services committee.
Aviation Week magazine's website pointed out, "despite the hopes of U.S. defense industry advocates to stave off steep cuts to the Pentagon, the military-minded have scant representation" on the committee.
Should that be a cause for concern in the halls of the Pentagon?
CNN asked if Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had any reaction to the make up of the committee. Spokesman Bryan Whitman said Panetta was out of the building Thursday but referred to what Panetta said to reporters in a recent briefing.
"I'm going to give Congress the opportunity to have this committee work," Panetta said on August 4, before any super committee members were named.
He said then he hoped "this committee will exercise their responsibility to look at other areas of the budget." Panetta went on to say that Congress needs to consider higher taxes - "You also have to look at revenues as part of that answer."
The super committee is charged with finding $1.5 trillion in cuts or tax increases in the overall budget, which could result in deeper defense cuts. And if the committee can't reach an agreement by late November, the debt deal calls for "sequestration;" that is, mandatory across-the-board reductions that would mean $500 billion in defense cuts.
The Democrats on the committee from the House are Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Xavier Becerra of California. Republicans are represented by Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Dave Camp of Michigan and Fred Upton of Michigan.
On the Senate side, Democrats are Patty Murray of Washington, who is a big supporter of Boeing, one of the nation's major defense contractors, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Max Baucus of Montana.
Republicans are Rob Portman of Ohio, a new member of the Armed Services Committee but likely chosen for his budget expertise rather than defense ties, Jon Kyl of Arizona, a vocal pro-defense advocate and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.
James Carafano is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and an expert in defense issues at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington. He's worried about defense cuts.
"The Defense Department is already on the ropes before we even had this discussion," Carafano said, referring to nearly $400 billion in defense cuts recently mandated as part of the agreement to raise the debt ceiling.
But he doesn't believe the committee members are the most important indicator of future defense spending. "I think it's very difficult to just look at the make-up of the committee and their backgrounds and say it's good for this or bad for that," he said.
Carafano said congressional leaders, voters and other will be able to pressure the committee members.
Winslow Wheeler is on the opposite end of the defense budget debate from Carafano, but on one thing they agree. "The super high DoD spending hawks didn't have to be on this committee to get the message to be sure to protect the defense department from the cuts," Wheeler said.
Wheeler is a veteran of 31 years on Capitol Hill and at the Government Accounting Office dealing with national security issues. He's now director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information. He is a staunch advocate for changing the way the Pentagon does business.
"What I expect will happen is that the committee will come to some form of agreement of additional budget savings, including entitlements and a change in revenues and some second batch of cuts for DoD," Wheeler said. "It's very unclear what form and size that second bunch of cuts will come."
Carafano doesn't believe the final answers will come from the super committee, which has to make a decision by Thanksgiving or deeper, automatic cuts could kick in.
"I don't think anybody truly believes that they are going to sit down through this super committee," Carafano said, "and that they're actually going to come up with a long-range 10-year plan to solve anything." Carafano believes the real answers will come after the voters make their feelings known in the 2012 election.