Nine months ago, the House Armed Services Committee chairman was faced with a difficult decision: Vote for an imperfect bill that carries potential risks to the Defense Department or let the U.S. default on its debts for the first time in history, possibly sending global markets into a downward spiral.
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chose what many viewed as the better of two bad options. He voted for the Budget Control Act, which raised America's borrowing limit on condition that $2.1 trillion is cut from the nation's deficit. To generate half of those savings, the law placed caps on discretionary spending over the next decade, including $487 billion from the Pentagon over the 10-year period.
Now, McKeon's concern has morphed into outright opposition as he leads his committee in its markup of the 2013 defense authorization bill.
"We were presented a budget from the administration that takes a knife to the defense budget, while growing the size and scope of the federal government," McKeon said in an April 25 speech.
McKeon is attempting to roll back the defense cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act. The House budget allows for increases in defense by pushing deeper cuts in other parts of the federal budget.
The extra funding would pay for additional weapons, including some the Pentagon had planned to cancel in 2013, such as the Northrop Grumman Block 30 Global Hawk program and continued production of Army combat vehicles.
These changes were outlined in the House Armed Services subcommittees' markups of the 2013 defense authorization bill, which were unveiled last week.
While congressional appropriators have the final say on actual spending amounts, the defense authorization bill can place restrictions on how that money is spent, in addition to creating broader defense policy.
The full committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday to debate the bill, while the Senate Armed Services Committee does not plan to start writing its version of the bill until late May.
The House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee recommended adding $1.1 billion above what the Pentagon requested for certain weapon programs.
If the legislation is approved, it would require the Air Force to operate Block 30 Global Hawks through the end of 2014.
The Pentagon requested $75 million for the UAVs, to which the subcommittee added $263 million to fund continued operations.
The subcommittee also recommended funding 36 General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper UAVs, 12 more than the Air Force requested. To buy the additional 12 systems, the subcommittee added $180 million to the Air Force's $920 million request.
The subcommittee mark added $250 million for National Guard and reserve equipment.
The subcommittee also recommended an additional $181 million for continued M1 Abrams tank upgrades and $140 million for upgrades to the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. It added $62 million to increase 2013 production for the M88A2 Improved Recovery Vehicle.
During his April 25 speech, McKeon said he opposed any further cuts to the Army's heavy brigades. "We absolutely must preserve those teams. That means mitigating end strength reductions, and also preserving the critical industrial base that keeps the teams equipped."
This spring, Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, testified that the Army is conducting a force-mix study that could lead to further heavy brigade cuts. He also said the Army's tank fleet is in excellent shape and, therefore, the Army has decided to temporarily shut down the production lines for the Abrams and Bradleys until upgrades are needed beginning in 2017.
In the absence of the force-mix study results and a quantitative analysis of the impacts to the combat vehicle industrial base, the subcommittee recommended providing funding to keep those production lines open.
The seapower and projection forces subcommittee included a provision that would require a minimum of 12 ballistic-missile submarines to remain in service for the foreseeable future, despite Navy plans to drop below that number beginning in 2029.
Although 14 Ohio-class "boomers" are in service, the fleet is scheduled to begin shrinking in 2027 as the oldest units are retired.
Navy plans show the force dropping to 11 ships in 2029 and reaching 10 in 2032, where the level holds for a decade before starting to rise again as new replacement submarines come on line.
The subcommittee also approved the Navy's request for multiyear procurement contracts for 10 Virginia-class attack submarines — one more than the Navy request — and 10 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
The readiness subcommittee recommended preventing the Navy from retiring three of the four Aegis cruisers planned for decommissioning in 2013.
The subcommittee on strategic forces recommended $170 million for the procurement of an additional missile defense AN/TPY-2 radar in 2013. The Pentagon had requested funding for only one.
The subcommittee mark added $357 million to the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program, for a total of $1.3 billion. Of the new funding, $100 million is for the Defense Department to evaluate three possible locations for a covered missile defense site on the East Coast of the U.S. Part of this study includes preparing an environmental impact statement for the possible sites.
While Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, ranking member on the subcommittee, refrained from debate during the markup hearing, her written statement raised objections to some of the decisions made by subcommittee chairman Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio.
While these marks offer insight into some of Congress' defense priorities, the 2013 budget is a long way from being decided. Few in Washington expect Congress to pass a budget before Oct. 1, the first day of the new fiscal year. Instead, a series of temporary spending measures, known as continuing resolutions, are expected to keep the government running until after the November election.