- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

After four years of higher defense spending, some lawmakers and budget watchdogs say it’s time to look at cutting back — but they are running straight into other lawmakers trying to protect airplanes and aircraft carriers important to state and congressional district economies.

With the nation conducting a global war on terrorism and with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, military budget increases must be made to protect U.S. troops, several congressmen say. Defense spending makes up $417.5 billion of the $1.3 trillion budget, and even if all $412.7 billion in nondefense discretionary allocations were cut, the budget still would be unbalanced by nearly $470 billion.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office, said defense spending ranks high on his priority list of budget pressures, but it would be the most difficult to tackle.

“There are really three different kinds of spending there. One is the global war on terror characterized by Afghanistan and Iraq costs. … [The] second one is restoration of the legacy military forces … and then the cost of transformation with new combat systems,” Mr. Holtz-Eakin said.

He said the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated to cost about $60 billion this year, but other estimates are running at about $70 billion or higher as a result of maintenance costs and extra manpower.

The experience of freshman Sen. Mel Martinez shows how difficult it will be to cut defense spending while trying to maintain military operations beneficial to home constituencies.

On the day he was sworn in, the Florida Republican said defense spending restraint should be a high priority, “because that is where the big money is. We have to cut domestic spending as well, but defense is the big one.”

But days later, Mr. Martinez and other members of his state’s congressional delegation sharply criticized the military’s proposal to decommission the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier, calling the move a threat to national security. The vessel is stationed in Mayport, Fla. Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, also said he opposes mothballing the ship.

“The Kennedy is an integral part of our armed forces. She recently returned from the war in Afghanistan, and just last year we invested over $300 million to ensure her readiness for deployment,” Mr. Martinez said.

Mr. Martinez and Mr. Nelson were not the only senators to begin the fight to maintain military operations in their home state.

Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Republicans, and Sen. Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrat, scrambled recently to get other senators to help save the C-130J Hercules construction contract. The cargo and personnel transport airplane is built in Marietta, Ga., by Lockheed Martin Corp. and its pilots are trained at the Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.

Mr. Chambliss said terminating the 10-year contract scheduled to end in 2008 would cost millions in compensation costs to Lockheed.

Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to eliminating federal budget deficits, said it would be an “interesting” budget year, but one not likely to produce real savings.

“Some of the weapons systems are phantom savings, and it is unlikely Congress will go through with them because a lot of these things end up being jobs programs, and that is how members tend to look at them,” he said.

Even among House budget hawks, defense cuts are not a priority during a time of war.

“I think we remain committed to waging the war on terrorism and winning the war in Iraq, and it will require increased defense spending,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican. His priority is to cut domestic spending. He said Republicans have taken pork-barrel projects “to a whole new level.”

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he is concerned about how to reduce deficit spending without cutting future defense needs. He worries that the F-22 strike fighter, being built by Maryland-based Lockheed, will face a cut.

“I think the F-22 is obviously very important to the Air Force and very important to our defense structure, but we are going to look at it,” Mr. Hoyer said.

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