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House panel will take 'more realistic' view of military spending if Democrats take control

Ranking Member of the House Committee on Armed Services Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., questions Defense Department officials during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, March 7, 2018.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 5, 2018

WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services Committee will take a closer look at Pentagon spending if Democrats take control of the lower chamber, a key lawmaker said Wednesday.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., his party’s ranking member on the committee, made the comments at an annual defense conference as a growing share of political polls project Republicans could lose control of the House during the midterm elections in November.

In such a scenario, Smith could become chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He said the two parties have very similar views when it comes to defense spending, though there are differences.

“There is a lot more commonality in the sense we want to get the most out of the money we are spending,” Smith told a crowd gathered at Pentagon City’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where the media outlet Defense News was hosting an annual conference. But “I think the Democrats have a much more realistic outlook over the course of the next ten years of how much money is going to be available for defense.”

The midterm elections, most of which are slated for Nov. 6, will see all 435 House seats contested. Voters also will have their say on 35 seats in the Senate.

On Tuesday, a Washington Post-ABC poll projected voters prefer the Democratic candidate over their Republican opponent in their districts in the upcoming election by a 14-point margin — 52 percent to 38 percent — one of the largest gaps recorded this year in such surveys.

Smith said if the polls are correct, a Democrat-controlled House Armed Services Committee will look at some military issues with a more critical eye.

Among them, Smith said many Democrats, including himself, don’t agree with Republicans when it comes to nuclear weapon spending. Also, military spending decisions must be made with an eye towards reducing a ballooning U.S. deficit.

“I think the Republican party and the Nuclear Posture Review contemplates a lot more nuclear weapons than I, and I think most Democrats, think we need,” Smith said.

With the United States in debt for about $22 trillion and as the deficit — the shortfall between federal revenue and spending — nears $1 trillion in 2019, lawmakers must take a realistic look at how much they can afford in defense spending, Smith said.

“We’ve got debt, we’ve got a deficit, we’ve got infrastructure problems, we’ve got health care, education. There’s a whole lot that is necessary to make our country safe, secure and prosperous,” Smith said. “And you have to look at it within the entire picture. How much of that pie can go to defense? And I think we are going to take a more realistic look at that and then try to figure out how to fund it.”

However, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., also a member of the Armed Services Committee, said at the same conference that some military spending priorities remain strong.

For example, the Navy is still working towards its 30-year shipbuilding plan to reach 355 ships, he said, with attack submarines being one of those important assets.

“I would suggest that there are some things that have to be addressed as far as not just the number of ships, but the types of ships,” Wittman said. “It is critical that we have a full complement of attack submarines.”

As the National Defense Strategy noted, the United States must prepare for potential great power conflicts against Russia and China. For example, the United States will have 45 attack submarines by 2029, while China will have 68, Wittman said.

“That is not acceptable,” he said. “The most often requested asset by the combat commanders is the attack submarines.”

The lawmakers comments were among several shared at the conference Wednesday, where several top military officials also spoke. Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, who was the conference’s keynote speaker, said the service is making progress towards its effort to address the National Defense Strategy’s new demands.

“The rules of the game have changed quite a bit and the competitors have changed,” he said. “For our Navy to achieve the objectives of the National Defense Strategy, we have to embrace every avenue.”

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson echoed the comments for her service.

The National Defense Strategy “demands that we think through very difficult operational problems,” Wilson told the crowd. It “explicitly recognizes the reemergence of great power competition as the defining threat for which we must prepare. It’s what our airman call the high-end fight. It guides us as a service.“

grisales.claudia@stripes.com
Twitter: @cgrisales

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