Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has long set aside his Aye vote on the Budget Control Act and homed in on resisting the national defense spending caps imposed by that legislation. That inconsistency aside, however, McKeon has been admirably transparent about his objective. HASC forthrightly announced its recent decision to authorize “funding for National Defense at $554.2 billion,” a sum $8.2 billion above the cap and equal to the 2012 appropriation.
Agree or disagree, you know where the Chairman stands – which gives him a lot more force when he calls others out. And that’s just what he chose to do last Friday in rebutting Defense Secretary Panetta’s criticism of HASC modifications to the Pentagon budget.
Panetta charged that:
We then crafted a balanced plan that met the requirements of that strategy as well as met the spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act. My concern is that if Congress now tries to reverse many of the tough decisions that we reached by adding several billion dollars to the president's budget request, then they risk not only potential gridlock, because it's not likely that the Senate will go along with what the House did, and if they did, they could force the kind of trade-offs that could jeopardize our national defense.
But there’s one big problem: the President’s budget request didn’t meet the spending cap. Like HASC, the administration exceeded BCA limitations, but – unlike HASC – it’s been very discreet in doing so. McKeon pounced:
Contrary to your assertion yesterday, in proposing a defense budget that exceeds the BCA caps, the President himself acknowledges that the BCA caps are too low to meet the core needs of the new defense strategy, much less address any of the vulnerabilities inherent in that strategy.
Many of the critiques that Panetta levied in his press conference are valid, but he lost the power of those punches by not living up to the standard he was defending. McKeon’s directness stands in clear contrast, and it serves as one of the Chairman’s biggest advantages.