July 21st, 2011
06:02 PM ET

Fight looming over military spending cuts

The raging Washington debate over increasing the debt limit already is foreshadowing perhaps the next budget tussle between the administration and Capitol Hill - a looming fight over cutting military spending.

The Pentagon is the middle of studying how it can meet President Barack Obama's orders to cut $400 billion in spending over the next 12 years - a plan that has raised eyebrows with pro-military Democrat and Republican members of Congress, many of them representing districts with defense contractors or military bases.

Pentagon officials say Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, just days into the job of heading the Pentagon, has been quietly talking to members about the long-term outlook for defense spending cuts. The officials declined to be identified because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

But as part of any deficit-reduction package to accompany raising the debt ceiling, some in Congress are seeing the defense budget as a target-rich environment.

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-California, chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, wrote a memo to his fellow committee Republicans strongly criticizing the so-called Senate "Gang of Six" congressional plan that would result in $886 billion in defense cuts over 10 years.

"It is our belief that this proposal raises serious implications for defense and would not allow us to perform our constitutional responsibility to provide for the safety and security of our country, " he said. McKeon estimates half of those cuts would come from discretionary military spending accounts such as funding of new weapons.

McKeon supports the alternative "cut, cap, and balance" measure that would largely keep defense spending at the president's level.

The watchdog groups Project on Government Oversight and Taxpayers for Common Sense said in a joint statement they have identified $500 billion in deficit reductions "including cuts to wasteful weapons systems, limits on out-of-control contract spending, and reforms to costly entitlement programs."

Their proposed cuts would come from several military programs including cutting some Navy ship construction, halting the purchase of more Army tanks, deferring purchases of a new Air Force bomber and reducing the number of aircraft carriers from 10 to nine.

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