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article imageTea Party causes GOP split on defense budget cuts

By Lynn Herrmann     Jan 28, 2011 in Politics
Washington - Newly elected Tea Party members are giving traditional Republicans a scare in suggesting the bloated US defense budget should go under review for budget cuts, but Howard McKeon, Armed Services Committee Chairman plans to “educate” them.
The Pentagon budget, more than a half trillion dollars annually, has recently come under attack by members of the GOP, with Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Eric Cantor, House majority leader, leading the way in considering military budget cuts.
However, those cuts will be met with fierce opposition by Rep. Howard McKeon, leader of the House Armed Service Committee. “I cannot say it strongly enough: I will not support any measures that stress our forces and jeopardize the lives of our men and women in uniform,” McKeon said in opening statements before the committee this week, according to “I will also oppose any plans that have the potential to damage or jeopardize our national security,” McKeon added.
Adding to the split are new Tea Party members who believe the country’s runaway spending habits should be brought in check. Rep. Chris Gibson, a freshman Republican from the Hudson River Valley in New York, said: “This deficit that we have threatens our very way of life, and everything needs to be on the table,” the New York Times reports.
Gibson, a retired Army colonel, was testifying before William Lynn III, deputy defense secretary, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, and additional service vice chiefs.
Such comments are seen as a mystery by some, and will be met with a proper education by others. The NYTimes stated that Chiarelli is eager to discuss the matter, at the Pentagon, with the newcomers. “It’s a mystery to me,” Chiarelli said of their comments.
McKeon, however, has already been in discussions with new members, some of which “have no experience in government” the NYTimes noted. The discussions apparently center on a national security education and why the military budget needs to be around $700 billion annually, including the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
A Congressional staff member who closely watches military matters, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “ While McKeon would say that all members are entitled to advocate for positions they want to advocate, what he has been doing is working to educate new members on what the threats are, and why we need the defense budget close to where it is,” the NYTimes reported.
The matter of military budget cuts has been receiving plenty of air time since the mid-term elections and the announcement this week of a record $1.5 trillion budget deficit for fiscal year 2011 is certain to ratchet up pressure as politicians search for answers to the escalating crisis.
The California district that McKeon represents is the home of major defense contractors. Military aerospace companies, along with their employees, made him the biggest recipient of campaign contributions in the House.
The discussions stem from an announcement earlier this month by Defense Secretary Robert Gates who said he would seek to reduce military spending by $78 billion over a five year period. He called the current economic situation a period of “extreme fiscal duress.”
Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Lynn defended Gates’ proposal, saying the $78 billion in cuts “strikes the right balance for these difficult times,” reports.
In the Times report, freshman Rep. Vicky Hartzler from Missouri, backed by Sarah Palin, said that “now is not the time to talk about defense cuts while we are engaged in two theaters with men and women in harm’s way.”
Hartzler’s home district in Missouri includes Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base. The latter is the home of the B-2 stealth bomber as well as a new Predator drone ground control station.
Continuing with her stance, Hartzler added: “I will be a staunch defender of military installations in my district and across the country.”
Another Republican newcomer who has pledged support to many of the Tea Party’s positions, Rep. Scott Rigell from Virginia, said in an interview after the committee hearing that “as a first priority, it is our constitutional duty to stand an army,” the Times reported.
Rigell said he is in favor of any Pentagon cuts that can clearly identified as a waste of money, but said Gates’ decision to cut military spending caught him by surprise. “the abruptness of the decision is concerning to me.”
Like Hartzler, Rigell’s home district in Virginia is financially dependent on the military. He is outspoken over discussions on moving one of five Norfolk-based nuclear aircraft carriers to Florida.
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