New House majority leader won't rule out defense cuts

Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Tuesday that defense spending cuts are "on the table" as Republicans look to make good on their oft-stated No. 1 pledge of chopping as much as $100 billion from the nation's $3 trillion federal budget.

Cantor's comments represented a departure from previous Republican claims that their efforts to return the federal budget to fiscal year 2008 levels would be achieved by cutting non-security discretionary funds.

Cantor made his comments when pressed during a Capitol news conference on how, exactly, the incoming GOP majority hopes to achieve its cost-cutting promise.

When pressed specifically if defense cuts might be included--given the difficulty of the task--Cantor said, "I think most of us have said everything is going to be on the table. And we're going to be about setting priorities."

Cantor did not provide many specifics, but noted that House Republicans plan to start the process with a vote Thursday on a resolution that would cut House operating budgets by 5 percent at a savings to taxpayers of $35 million. He said House committees will work to come up with the other spending cuts.

He did emphasize that the Republican majority, "as you would expect, is going to be a majority focused on national security as far as defense is concerned."

"But everybody will have to do more with less," he said.

Pressed harder, specifically, if that meant cuts to defense and national security spending, Cantor said, "You are correct in saying that the commitment to '08 levels was non-security, non-defense-related discretionary [spending], which produced the approximately $100 billion in savings in the first year."

But he again said, "Everything's got to be on the table. Everyone in this town must go through what people at home are doing, which is doing more with less and prioritizing what we should be about."

By previously leaving defense and security spending out of the picture, the goal of cutting $100 billion from the budget is a much more difficult task, requiring bigger cuts in non-security discretionary funding for such things as education, health and human services, and housing.

"But I must say again, in the area of defense, this is going to be a majority about national security, and we're going to be focused on what are the things that are a priority to ensure our national security," Cantor said.

His remarks also came amid news that Republicans might be pulling back a bit--a day before assuming the House majority Wednesday--from a specific commitment to chopping $100 billion, at least during this fiscal year.

"Last year, House Republicans pledged to bring non-security discretionary spending back to 2008 levels. We estimated savings relative to President Obama's proposed fiscal blueprint due to the fact that Democrats in Congress offered no budget with which to compare," said Conor Sweeney, a spokesman for incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

"Republicans will continue to work to reduce spending for the final six months of this fiscal year-bringing non-security discretionary spending back to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels-yielding taxpayers significant savings and starting a new era of cost cutting in Washington," he said.

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