The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, in a harsh attack on the Obama administration Monday, accused the president of viewing American military power as a negative force in the world, and planning to "gut" defense spending through the congressional deficit-reduction committee.
"It is my suspicion that the White House and congressional Democrats" designed the supercommittee process "for one purpose: to force Republicans to choose between raising taxes or gutting defense," said California Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, the House Armed Services Committee chairman.
Mr. McKeon also lashed out at the administration's defense and security policies that he asserted are based on a negative view of U.S. power in the world.
"President Obama's policies often seem reflective of an ideology that treats American power as the principal adversary, not ally, to world peace," he told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute.
That view "flies in the face of both history and experience. And it resigns us to national decline," he added.
"Power in benevolent hands is a virtue, not a vice."
White House officials declined to respond.
Under the deficit reduction act passed by Congress this summer, if the supercommittee cannot agree on a package of measures to reduce the national debt, the Defense Department, already facing spending cuts of $350 billion over 10 years, will face another half trillion or more dollars in automatic cuts — what defense officials have termed a "doomsday trigger."
"That political gamesmanship is simply unacceptable," Mr. McKeon said of the deal, which he voted to approve while expressing grave concerns about the potential impact on defense spending.
Even if the supercommittee is able to reach a deal and avoid pulling the defense cut trigger, Mr. McKeon said he remained concerned that the White House planned to make cuts of almost the same half-trillion dollar amount through the supercommittee process.
"Recent statements from the Office of Management and Budget indicate that the administration could be pushing for defense cuts that near the size and scope of the trigger, within the confines of the supercommittee," he said.
Such cuts would be "beyond what the Defense Department is prepared to absorb," he added, and would "open the door to aggression, as our ability to deter and respond to an attack would be severely crippled."
"Folks, it is impossible to pay our entitlement tab with the Pentagon's credit card," he stated.
Officials at the Office of Management and Budget had no immediate comment on Mr. McKeon's remarks.
Concern about cuts to defense spending is widely shared by Republicans conservatives. Some have taken a more optimistic view of the outcome of the supercommittee process.
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.
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