McKeon seeks House Armed Services leadership post

Rep. Howard (Buck) McKeon, R-Calif., wasted no time Wednesday announcing his intention to seek the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee in the next Congress.

McKeon, who became ranking member of the committee last year, said in a statement Wednesday that he would focus on winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and providing troops deployed there with the equipment, support, and -- in an apparent reference to President Obama's plan to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July -- the time they need to complete their missions.

But he also emphasized the need to invest in technologies and force structure to hedge against future threats. And, in what could set up a budgetary battle with the Obama administration, he criticized plans to slow historic increases in the Pentagon's budget.

"Our citizens have spoken, and they want a defense budget that is sufficient to address the challenges of today and the threats of tomorrow," McKeon said. "One-percent real growth in the base defense budget over the next five years is a net reduction for modernization efforts, which are critical to protecting our nation's homeland."

As the Pentagon grapples with tighter budgets than it has enjoyed over the last decade, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has laid out a five-year plan to cut more than $100 billion in overhead and other unnecessary costs within the department and redirect that funding to higher-priority items, such as modernization, infrastructure, and personnel spending.

McKeon's statement Wednesday, however, indicates that he believes that simply redirecting billions in spending may not be enough for the Pentagon to cover necessary costs and investments. But he also emphasized that the Pentagon must be fiscally responsible and transparent, and the committee will put a "renewed emphasis" on oversight.

"Our oversight will be focused and aggressive while upholding the integrity of the military and its personnel," McKeon said.

But McKeon, who previously served as the top Republican on the divisive House Education and Labor Committee, also said he intends to continue the Armed Services Committee's tradition of bipartisan cooperation on many security issues.

As he looks to the next Congress, McKeon also said Republicans remain committed to passing during the lame-duck session an fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill "that is not weighed down by the current majority's social agenda items."

This was an apparent reference to language repealing the 1993 law banning openly gay individuals from serving in the military after the Pentagon completes its review and certifies that doing so would not hurt morale or unit cohesion. The House-passed bill includes this provision, as does the version approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee that is still awaiting Senate action.

Senate Republicans have objected to the repeal of the gay ban and blocked the Senate from acting on the authorization bill. They also are trying to keep Senate Democrats from attaching the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for young adult illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as minors.

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