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House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon on Obama’s decision to slash the military

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HH: We begin this hour by talking with the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, California Congressman Buck McKeon from California’s 25th. Congressman McKeon, Happy New Year, thank you for joining us, but what a grim day for the Pentagon.

BM: Well, Hugh, thanks for having me, and a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year to you. It’s nice to be able to say that.

HH: Thank you.

BM: It is not a good day. I am really hopping mad. This, to have a president that will do this to our nation’s defense when we’re fighting a war, we’ve got people that are going outside the wire every day over there, it’s just hard to believe.

HH: I have tried to explain to the audience the scale of what he is proposing, and I’ve told them, in rough terms, 10-15% reduction in the Army and the Marine Corps. But what else ought people to know, Congressman McKeon, about what the Obama-Panetta budget would look like?

BM: Actually, it’s more than 10%. The Army right now is about 570,000, and he’s cutting it by 80,000, and the Marines, cutting by 20,000.

HH: Wow.

BM: You know, and we’re, we don’t, I don’t even know where to start. There’s so many things wrong with this. The President gave a speech early last year, and said we were going to cut Defense $400 billion dollars. The military salutes and does what the commander-in-chief says. And so they started making plans for this, and they started working on the cuts. It’s going to work out, actually, now about $489 billion dollars over the next ten years. And if the sequestration kicks in, that’s another $500-600 billion. So we’re looking at almost $100 billion a year for the next ten years. You know, I don’t think Defense should not have to undergo some cuts. I mean, we’re in a tough financial situation. We understand that. But Defense is about 20% of the budget. It’s the one thing in the Constitution that we’re assigned to do, to look after the defense of this nation. And also, we’ve made commitments around the world to help allies. But to move in and cut Defense, provide 50% of the cuts out of Defense, it just boggles my mind.

HH: What I can’t understand, Congressman, is how anyone can with a straight face defend this when we are still sending money to NPR, we still have a Department of Energy sending money to Solyndra, we still have an out of control EPA shutting down businesses across the United States, and yet the President chooses to focus on the men and women in uniform. I believe there are also benefit cuts anticipated here that will dramatically impact the ability to maintain the quality and quantity of service member we need.

BM: There’s no question. What this will do to morale of the troops, what it will do to our ability to keep our commitments around the world? All we have to do is, I mean, what was the big thing in the headlines last week, just last week? Iran rattling their saber, saying they’re going to cut down, close down the Straits of Hormuz. You know, since World War II, our Navy has protected the sea lanes around the world. And when Admiral Greenert testified before our committee as to what the impact of these cuts would be on our defense, he pointed that out. He said 95% of our commerce travels on the seas. And our Navy, in a quiet way, has just been keeping the world safe, secure, and allowing this to happen, to keep our commerce traveling around the world. And now, he said there are seven choke points. One of them happens to be the Straits of Hormuz. And if we let Iran get away with something like this, I don’t know what the next thing is, but it’s hard to imagine that we can just talk our way out of these things, as the President, I guess, would have us do.

HH: I’m talking with Congressman Buck McKeon, who’s chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and the point man to turn back this assault on the military unveiled by the President at the Pentagon today. Congressman, because I am the son-in-law of a career Marine colonel, and the brother-in-law of another one, I kind of lean that way, and I have been to Pendleton to take a tour of what’s going on down in the last month. And so I am astonished that in this day and age, when we have to go places quickly, and sometimes without the ability of bases nearby, that he is savaging the Marine Corps. I mean, does that make any sense at all given the profile of the world conflicts?

BM: Not in the least. And by the way, will you please tell your family members thank you for your service the next time you see them?

HH: You bet.

BM: I, for one, and I’m sure the people in the country appreciate their service. You know, I was talking to General Amos, and I mentioned earlier that we don’t provide our Defense to provide jobs, but it is a side benefit. And we have about 22% is the unemployment right now for our young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. General Mattis told me that last year, the Marines spent $150 million for unemployment. And now, we’re talking of adding another 100,000 to those lines? You know, it’s a real quandary that we’re in. All of this comes, generally what you would do, I would think, if youi wanted to plan a Defense strategy, is you would do a thorough study of what the possible risks are. Who can you see that would want to attack us, and how would they attack us. And you would really scope that out. Once you had that done, you would look at providing a strategy to protect these various, against these various risks around the world. Then, you would look to seeing how you could finance, and how much risk you’re willing to take, and how much you think you can withstand, and you would plan a budget accordingly. This is totally the opposite. The President gave a speech, then today, a press conference was held. And now, we’re moving forward with these cuts. And then they asked the military to plan a strategy to meet the budget. And so what, they’ve had a lot of talks about strategy, given what can we do in knowing that we’re going to have about $50 billion dollars less a year. And if the other kicks in next January, the sequestration, then we’re looking at $100 billion a year. So what can you do, how can you do it? So we’ve had a major shift in our Defense. For decades, we’ve had a strategy based on how we could manage two conflicts, two major conflicts around the world at the same time. And now, we’re moving away from that without any kind of study, without any hearings, without any thought as to what the attacks might possibly be, just cuts in the name of cutting so that we can have more money for social spending programs. This really boggles my mind.

HH: Chairman McKeon, is there, I don’t know if you’ve endorsed in the presidential campaign yet, but do you believe this issue…

BM: I have.

HH: Oh, you have?

BM: I have.

HH: Who have you endorsed?

BM: Mitt Romney.

HH: All right, so I know that Governor Romney has given a speech calling for shipbuilding to go from nine to 15 a year, and for an expansion of 100,000 in uniform, not cutting 100,000.

BM: Yeah.

HH: So…but do you believe this issue ought to be front and center of every debate that the Republicans launch against the President?

BM: Well, I would sure hope so. The problem is, it’s like not many people are paying attention to this. All of the focus, for years, under Reagan, we had the conservatives had a three-legged stool. And that was one leg was social issues, one was the defense of our nation, and one was fiscal responsibility, and keeping our financial house in order, all of which are very important. The problem is we’ve gotten out of balance right now, quite a bit, and the focus is all on the fiscal responsibility. We cannot solve problems that we’ve created over decades on the backs of our military. If we do this, who’s going to have our backs the next time we need them?

HH: So Mr. Chairman, we’ve got a minute left. How are you going to stop this?

BM: Well, I’ve been talking about this for a long time. This didn’t just happen. I mean, he gave this speech, and I knew that the Defense establishment was working on this, because Admiral Mullen told me before he was retired, he had assigned the chiefs to come up with these savings. So I knew this was coming. I’ve given speeches on it. I’ve talked to our conference about it. But I haven’t been able to kind of crack through all of the attention that’s just been placed on spending cuts. And again, I say that Defense isn’t immune to the spending cuts, but just why do we take 50% of the cuts out of Defense, they’re the only thing the Constitution says we’re supposed to do, to do more social spending out of the other 80% of the budget?

HH: Well, Chairman McKeon, we’ll continue to help you get the word out and fight the good fight. Thank you, Buck McKeon.

End of interview.

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