- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, who as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has struggled to protect defense spending against deficit hawks, has decided to retire after 21 years in Congress, Republicans officials said Wednesday.

The 75-year-old McKeon was expected to announce his plans on Thursday at a Capitol Hill news conference. His office declined to confirm the news, with spokeswoman Alissa McCurley simply saying, “The congressman will make an announcement when he is ready to make the announcement.”

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss McKeon’s plans ahead of the formal announcement.

McKeon’s Armed Services counterpart in the Senate, Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, also plans to retire after this year. In Virginia, Rep. Jim Moran, a 12-term Democrat, announced that he was retiring from the House.

The soft-spoken McKeon campaigned for Republican candidates in 2010 and, thanks to the GOP wave that year, took over the chairmanship of the committee that oversees military policy, war operations and authorizes budgets for the Pentagon. During his time in charge, McKeon has fought congressional efforts to slash spending as defense hawks increasingly were outnumbered, even in the Republican Party.

The end of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and increasing deficits served as the impetus for budget reductions.

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces, issued a statement - later retracted because it had been issued without his authorization - praising McKeon and his work during a difficult time of budget cuts.

“Through his leadership we have ensured that our troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world have the resources and equipment necessary to fight the global war on terrorism and protect our citizens back at home,” Turner said.

McKeon has represented a California district north of Los Angeles that counts a number of defense contractors and the famed Skunk Works, the Lockheed Martin operation dedicated to creating new technology.

McKeon’s decision to retire after 11 terms was expected and Republican candidates had already taken steps to seek the seat.

Fifteen House members - nine Republicans and six Democrats - have announced plans to leave Congress after their terms end.

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