On Wednesday, the co-chairs of President Obama’s debt reduction commission released their report outlining their recommendations to reduce the budget deficit. While many of the recommendations were met with criticism from leading progressives — like raising the Social Security retirement age — the commission also had some positive proposals, like recommending nearly $100 billion in cuts to the defense budget.
Yesterday, Rep. Howard McKeon (R-CA), the likely incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, responded to the proposed defense cuts in an interview with Bloomberg News. McKeon told Bloomberg that he is opposed to “cutting defense in the midst of two wars” and that he thinks the Department of Defense is not “in a position to absorb cuts“:
Representative Howard McKeon, a California Republican who is likely the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he opposes “cutting defense in the midst of two wars.”
“The commission mistakenly assumes that years of war funding have put the Department of Defense in a position to absorb cuts; this is simply not the case,” he said. “The department faces a train wreck in procurement and maintenance accounts.”
McKeon is wrong on the merits of his case. Defense spending has accounted for 65 percent of the discretionary spending increase since 2001, making it a major factor in the growth of the U.S. budget deficit. Without even accounting for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the defense budget for FY2010 is a whopping $533.8 billion, larger than the 2008 GDP of 116 countries. It is a very difficult to argue that the Department of Defense is not in a “position to absorb cuts.”
But McKeon has other reasons to oppose cuts in defense spending. Defense contractors are the most generous contributors to his election campaigns. Using data from the Federal Election Commission, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CPR) notes that he received at least $274,200 from the defense industry during the 2010 election cycle, the bulk of it from Political Action Committees — which are explicitly designed to influence members of Congress. CPR has illustrated this through a campaign spending graph:
Here is a short list of some of the defense contractor PACs who funded McKeon’s 2010 re-election campaign, compiled using CPR data:
- Aerojet & GenCorp Inc: The California-based conglomerate is a major armaments producer. Its PAC donated $10,000 to back McKeon’s re-election.
- BAE Systems: BAE Systems is the world’s second largest defense company. Its PAC donated $10,000 to McKeon’s 2010 campaign.
- Boeing: Boeing’s Defense, Space, and Security division is an industry leader in producing defense equipment. The company’s PAC also donated $10,000 to McKeon during the last election cycle.
- General Dynamics: General Dynamics is a “market leader” in producing combat vehicles, munitions, and systems. Its PAC gave $5,000 to McKeon over the last election cycle.
- General Electric: General Electric is a leader in producing nuclear weapons technology. Its PAC gave $5,000 to McKeon for the last cycle.
- Lockheed Martin: Lockheed Martin, the defense giant which was formed in the 1990s merger between Lockheed and Martin Marietta, boasts that they “never forget who we’re working for.” They apparently want the same promise from McKeon, donating $10,000 to him for his most recent campaign.
- Raytheon: Raytheon, a defense tech company that boasted $25 billion in sales worldwide in 2009, donated $6,000 through its PAC to McKeon’s campaign committe for the last election.
This money is just a small snippet of the funding McKeon received from the defense industry. For example, if donations from industry employees are included, the congressman has recieved over the “past two election cycles…$40,000 from General Atomics, $34,000 from Lockheed Martin, and $32,500 from Northrop Grumman.”
But even beyond the donations he has received, McKeon has gone above and beyond to court the favor of the defense industry. He is one of the co-founders of the Congressional Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Caucus, “which is interested in…[an] aircraft Northrop Grumman manufactures in his district.” Meanwhile, his former legislative assistant Hanz Heinrichs has “lobbied on behalf of Alcoa, Boeing, and Ashbury International Group.”
In an interview with Politico on Thursday, McKeon justified being against defense cuts by saying that generals will always be able to find something to do with extra taxpayer money. “We always ask the generals, ‘What would you do with extra money?’” McKeon said. “They always have plenty of good ideas.”