With the Tea Party ready to pounce and the Speaker of the House adamantly against raising taxes, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon apparently has seen the light and has decided he will not raise taxes to forestall further defense budget cuts.
Speaking at a defense budget forum in a Capitol Hill restaurant today, McKeon said he was working full time to make sure that neither he nor his colleagues had to make such a choice. In mid-September, McKeon told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute that, if faced with deep defense cuts, he would be wiling to support a tax increase.
Asked if he thought there was any way that the Republicans in the House could accept tax increases to avoid more defense cuts, McKeon said flatly that it would not happen.
He noted that the Republicans took over the House in the 2010 elections with 89 GOP freshmen who campaigned on cutting government spending, indicated they could be defeated in 2012 if they voted for tax increases. He cited as an example of the danger the defeat of former President George H.W. Bush’s defeat by Bill Clinton in 1992 after he broke his “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge and signed a tax increase bill.
Most political analysts probably would say the tax increase was not Bush’s fatal problem in an election that, much like today’s, was conducted in a lousy domestic economic environment. But McKeon restated his position that the defense budget could not stand any deeper cuts than the $465 billion over 10 years that he said the Pentagon says will be required by the budget control act (BCA).
That cut would mean letting go 100,000 soldiers and Marines and eliminating one of the 10 aircraft carrier battle groups, McKeon said. When it comes to meeting the need to cut another $1.2 trillion from the deficit, McKeon claimed that the BCA requires the so-called congressional “super committee” to take it from entitlements.
That means Social Security and Medicare, which make up the majority of the mandatory spending programs. The budget deficit problem is created by entitlements, not defense spending he said. “If you took away all of the discretionary spending, you’d still have half-a-trillion dollar deficit,” he insisted.
McKeon appears to have accepted the $465 billion in defense budget reductions required by the BCA, but said he hopes that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will consult with Congress on how to make the first $29 billion cut required in fiscal year 2013, instead of just dropping a budget on them as usually happens.
Asked about McKeon’s concerns, Panetta spokesman George Little said the secretary “fully intends to consult with Congress” on the cuts, but noted that the strategy review that supposedly would guide the spending reductions has not been completed.