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  • What Midterms Mean (Or Don't Mean) for Defense
    Posted by KristinMajcher 9:06 PM on Nov 03, 2010

    As expected, the Republicans made substantial gains in the House during last night's midterm elections. As a result, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) and House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee (HAC-D) will welcome a new cast of lawmakers replacing some pretty staunch supporters of defense.

    One of the more surprising upheavals is HASC chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) losing to Vicky Hartzler (R.-Mo.) after 34 years in Congress. The likely candidate to step into his place? Howard "Buck" McKeon, the ranking Republican from Calif. who has hammered home the need for increased defense spending to focus on China and Iran while meanwhile keeping counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq adequately funded.

    blog post photo
    HASC Ranking Republican Buck McKeon
    Source: Wikimedia Commons

    McKeon is known for having a critical eye of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' $101 billion defense savings plan, especially after joining forces with re-elected incumbent Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) to demand detailed documents about Gates' plan to close the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. McKeon has also been vocal about Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and missile defense.

    "One percent real growth in the base defense budget over the next five years is a net reduction for modernization efforts which are critical to protecting our nation's homeland," McKeon said in a post-election statement today.

    But as Congress tries to tame a national debt that is fast approaching $14 trillion, it becomes clear that McKeon's vision for increased spending won't be all that easy. Defense funding accounts for at last 50% of discretionary spending, which House Republicans have pledged to cut by $100 billion.
    According to the White House office of Management and Budget, the U.S. will pay $250 billion in interest payments in the fiscal year that started Oct. 1, a figure projected to increase to $912 billion by 2020. Something has to give, but what?

    Todd Harrison, a defense analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, says that he only sees 1% real growth for defense spending, which is in step with Obama's plan.

    "As a baseline, I don't see Congress deviating from that too much unless there's a bipartisan agreement on deficit reductions," he said. "That's probably a long shot at this point."

    To throw a wrench in the works, some of the new libertarian lawmakers coming into power deviate from the Republican norm on exempting tax cuts from the rest of discretionary outlays. One of these lawmakers is Sen.-Elect Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, who has made it clear that he'll put defense cuts on the table if necessary to reign in the unruly budget.

    On the appropriations side, House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.) will make way for a new Republican leader. Ranking republican C.W. "Bill" Young of Florida could be in line to take the position, but his staff has not yet confirmed his interest in doing so.

    Tags: ar99, defense, appropriations, elections

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