GOP lawmaker balks at 'Gang of Six' defense cuts

House Armed Services Committee leader notes the proposal would require changes to military retirement and other benefits, a difficult issue on Capitol Hill.

House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who has stalwartly opposed deep cuts to defense spending, on Wednesday sent a memo to Republicans on his panel blasting the "Gang of Six" proposal for targeting the Pentagon's accounts.

Seizing on an analysis of the bipartisan Senate group's plan released on Tuesday by the House Budget Committee, McKeon said the proposal would cut $886 billion in security spending over the next 10 years.

A summary of the gang's proposal circulated on Tuesday contained little detail on defense or other security cuts. But the gang has said its plan is consistent with suggestions made by the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, which recommended trimming security accounts by $886 billion over the next decade.

The Defense Department's budget, which makes up the vast majority of security spending, would presumably be the target for most of those cuts.

Nearly half of the discretionary savings in the proposal would come from security accounts, McKeon wrote to his colleagues. The Pentagon's budget - which, including war spending, totals nearly $700 billion annually -- makes up more than half of all federal discretionary spending.

In his memo, McKeon said the proposal would require changes to military retirement and other benefits - a difficult issue on Capitol Hill, where many lawmakers are reluctant to scale back compensation and benefits for current and retired service personnel.

"It is our belief that this proposal raises serious implications for defense and would not allow us to perform our constitutional responsibility to provide for the safety and security of our country or keep faith with men and women in uniform," McKeon wrote.

President Obama has already proposed cutting security accounts by $400 billion over the next 12 years. But last week he said he would be willing to trim hundreds of billions more, if necessary. Members of both parties have backed deep cuts to defense, with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., proposing earlier this week to slash $1 trillion from the Defense Department's budget over the next decade.

The Gang of Six's proposal has been met with stiff opposition in the House, making it unlikely that the plan, at least in its entirety, will be adopted. But House members may be able to get onboard with several provisions in the proposal.

Most other Republicans on Armed Services will likely back McKeon in his opposition to further defense cuts. But the number and influence of hawkish Republicans has been dwindling as fiscal conservatives continue to stress that all federal spending -- including the Defense Department's accounts, which were once considered sacrosanct -- must be considered for cuts.

There is already precedence in the Republican-controlled House for curbing defense spending. Despite calls from McKeon and his allies, the chamber earlier this month passed a defense appropriations bill that cut $9 billion from the Pentagon's budget request for next year.