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McKeon: Tax Hikes Over Defense Cuts

McKeon: Tax Hikes Over Defense Cuts

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - October 14, 2011

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon said at a RealClearPolitics forum Friday that the defense budget has been sliced more than enough, and that given the choice between making further cuts or increasing taxes to fund the military, he’d reluctantly take the latter.

“But I’m going to fight like crazy to make sure those aren’t the only two choices,” McKeon said at RCP’s Morning Briefing on Defense, held in Washington. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure everybody in Congress -- the House and the Senate -- understands . . . that’s as far as we should go.”

The California Republican bucked his party’s staunch opposition to tax increases last month when he expressed similar sentiments about raising revenues instead of chopping defense during a speech to the American Enterprise Institute.

McKeon’s comments come as the newly created congressional “super committee” readies its plan to trim back deficits. If the panel can’t come up with a plan to reduce deficits by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years, and get it through Congress, across-the-board automatic spending cuts will be triggered in 2013.

In an op-ed in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, McKeon said that more than $500 billion in defense spending has been cut “since then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates launched an 'efficiency' campaign in 2009. Although defense spending accounts for less than 20 percent of our federal budget, it has absorbed approximately half of our deficit-reduction efforts since 2009.”

At the RCP briefing, McKeon suggested further budget cuts should instead come from entitlement programs, and that raising taxes to pay for defense spending could have dangerous political implications. When asked by RCP’s Carl Cannon if other Republicans would agree to increase revenues to pay for defense if all else fails, McKeon suggested the situation was tenuous. “We go back to [former President] George H. W. Bush, who said, ‘Read my lips, no new taxes’ . . . and it cost him the election. . . . That’s what Americans want -- no new taxes.”

Politics aside, the chairman expressed concern about cutting defense spending while the country is at war, and also about not being able to support veterans returning home. “This is the first time I’ve seen us cut back when we’re still fighting,” he said.

McKeon, who took the chairmanship in January after Republicans regained control of the House in last year's midterms, addressed the killing of American-born Islamic militant Anwar al-Awlaki by CIA drones last month. McKeon said the administration did not seek his approval before the attack, but that he was content with the decision. “I’m OK with it,” he said. “I think as far as I’m concerned, al-Awlaki has done great damage to us and . . . the explanation I heard was they weren’t in the position to capture him. He was a combatant and I was OK with taking him out.”

Asked whether, as a result, foreign diplomats are now vulnerable to assassination, McKeon said, “I think that’s a possibility. But they’ve come after us around the world. That’s what terrorism is; that’s what they do.

“This is a different kind of war,” he cautioned. “It’s not like everybody goes out to the battlefield and has at it. . . . There are no easy answers on this, but I think we have to do the best we can. I think we have great leadership in the CIA and great leadership in the Pentagon.” 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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