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Likely chief of Armed Services panel opposed to defense budget cuts

By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
  • Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon is likely to head the House Armed Services Committee
  • The California Republican is currently the ranking member on the panel
  • He spoke to the Foreign Policy Institute on Monday
  • He criticized what he called "mishandling" of Guantanamo detainees and the war on terror

Washington (CNN) -- The congressman who will likely take charge of the House committee that controls the Pentagon's wallet has no intention of seeing the defense budget shrink.

"Cutting defense spending amidst two wars, is a red line for me and should be a red line for all Americans. You do not need to be a policy expert to realize that investment is key to maintaining a robust defense" Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-California -- currently the ranking member of the House Armed Service Committee -- told an audience at the Foreign Policy Institute on Monday.

In fact McKeon, who is likely to replace outgoing Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton as Armed Services chairman, would even be opposed to just a small increase in the defense budget. ""The growth in the department's top line is insufficient to address the future capabilities required by our military. One percent real growth in the defense budget over the next five years is a net cut for investment and procurement accounts. A defense budget in decline portends an America in decline."

McKeon praised Defense Secretary Robert Gates' "inefficiencies initiatives" announced last August, in which Gates asked all the services to identify wasteful spending that could be eliminated and funneled into the Department of Defense current missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. But McKeon is worried that the savings found by the DoD won't stay in the DoD.

"I'm extremely concerned that no matter what the intentions of Secretary Gates may be, the administration and some in Congress will not allow the secretary to keep the savings identified in his inefficiency initiative," McKeon said. "Once savings from this inefficiencies initiative are identified, what's to stop them from taking this money?"

McKeon also fought back against those who say that current economic realities make cuts in defense spending unavoidable. He said if the United States pulls back on it's global mission, other countries, including adversaries, will fill the void.

"While China may not intend to attack our carriers, neutralize our bases in Japan and Guam or push back our naval presence out of the South China Sea, they are without question making the investments and developing capabilities to do just that," he said in his presentation.

If McKeon does become chairman he also promised to push for a new policy for detention of suspect terrorists. "Arguably the greatest example of failed leadership of national security is the president's mishandling of the war on terror and the Guantanamo detainees," he said.

He promises no more "Mirandizing" of detainees, no more detainee trials in Manhattan and no more transferring of detainees to Yemen.

McKeon also talked about more Congressional probes into military matters ""We will place renewed emphasis on oversight and investigations. Our investigations will be relevant to the war fighter and the protecting of our homeland, while protecting the integrity of the military and its personnel. We're not interested in 'gotcha' oversight."

McKeon won't know for certain if he will become the new head of the Armed Services Committee until January.