SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) — The Obama administration should retreat from billions of dollars in "deeply damaging" defense cuts and begin investing in a new generation of tanks, planes and ships as the nation confronts danger around the globe, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Wednesday.
With much of the country's armament dating to the Reagan era and a decade-long war in Afghanistan, Congress must "get our forces the tools they need to win the current war and deter future wars," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif.
"That means repairing and replacing equipment that was lost and damaged in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. It means upgrading and restoring our nuclear deterrent, which is falling apart after two decades of neglect," McKeon said in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
He called cuts in military personnel — a total of 100,000 Army soldiers and Marines — "shameful," and warned that ripple effects would harm everything from schools to manufacturing.
"Instead of coming home to ticker tapes, these brave men and women will come home to pink slips. Instead of marching in victory parades, they will stand in unemployment lines," McKeon said.
"These cuts, deeply damaging to our defense, will hurt everyone associated with the military," he added.
Overall defense spending is dictated by the budget agreement that President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans reached in August that calls for defense cuts of $487 billion over a decade.
McKeon voted for that budget agreement but insisted he will work to reverse the defense cuts.
The $614 billion defense budget for 2013 would slash the size of the Army and Marine Corps, cut back on shipbuilding and delay the purchase of some fighter jets and weapons systems. Overall, the budget would provide $525.4 billion in base spending and $88.5 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The total is nearly $32 billion less than this year's budget, a reflection of the drawdown in the two conflicts and the call to reduce the nation's deficit. The Congressional Budget Office estimated Tuesday that the government will run a $1.2 trillion deficit for the budget year ending just a few weeks before Election Day, the fourth straight year of trillion-dollar-plus red ink.
McKeon did not put a price tag on a sweeping military overhaul in future years, but said, "I will not be a partner to the management of this great nation's decline. I will not be complicit in the dismantling of the Reagan military."
Echoing Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, McKeon said the United States should stay the course in Afghanistan, despite the massacre of Afghan civilians and the burning of Qurans that have stoked anti-American anger.
"When you look at the war through that terrible, violent act — it can seem hopeless and lost," said McKeon, referring to the American soldier suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children. "But the reason we liberated Afghanistan in 2001 was right then, and it is the same reason we fight today to keep it liberated."
The current U.S. plan calls for a drawdown of 23,000 American troops by the end of September and a complete withdrawal by the end of 2014, when Afghan forces are to take charge of the country's security. After the burning of Qurans by U.S. soldiers last month, anti-U.S. protests and the killing of at least six U.S. troops by Afghan troops, 24 senators, including Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, wrote a letter to Obama arguing that U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan was too costly and it was time to bring American forces back.
The massacre of the 16 Afghan civilians has prompted talk of accelerating the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said there has been no change in plans to complete a troop withdrawal by the end of 2014 and Obama has spoken of ending the war "responsibly." Top lawmakers cautioned against a rush to judgment and embraced that approach.
McKeon said the president must do a better job of explaining to the American people the importance of the fight against terrorism and describing the courageous acts of the military.
Associated Press Writer Donna Cassata in Washington contributed to this report.