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Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, one of the six Republican members of the supercommittee, last week laid down a political marker in opposing further defense cuts, saying the military had shouldered its share of spending reductions

Mr. Kyl said he told the new panel’s chairman at its first meeting, that “I’m off of the committee if we’re gonna talk about further defense spending [cuts].”

House Democrats say they are committed to a responsible solution to the nation’s spiraling debt crisis.

“Rather than just focus on the potential damage to national defense that could be caused by large and arbitrary cuts, we should ask … how can we put together a sustainable national defense strategy?” said Rep. Adam Smith, Washington state Democrat and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee,

“I don’t believe anyone here thinks defense funding will stay level or increase in real terms in the future, so what missions should we think about canceling? What can we do smarter? And what principles [should we] use to prioritize the interests in the world that we must defend or the threats we must defend against?”

One important benefit of U.S. military power in Asia is countering China’s rising assertiveness, Mr. McKeon said, noting that China’s navy is now larger than the U.S. Navy and is being dispatched “into the territorial waters of our allies,” in order to “intimidate our friends in the Pacific Rim.”

Mr. McKeon called a recent Pentagon report on Chinese military power “face-whitening,” especially coming “from an administration that has gone to great lengths to avoid upsetting our neighbors in Beijing.”

“The fact is,” he said, “China keeps our admirals up at night. And for good reason. Any historian worth his salt knows that massive military buildups and chest-thumping speeches about national destiny is a dangerous combination.”

The House chairman accused the Chinese of being “emboldened with new found military might and drunk with economic power,” and said they are “convinced that they have been given an opening with our current financial crisis.”

“For the first time in their history, Beijing believes they can achieve military parity with the United States,” he said.