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Skelton Doubts Obama F136 Veto

The House Armed Services Committee is examining different options to trim waste from the defense budget to free up money for critical areas such as shipbuilding, said Rep. Ike Skelton, the influential committee chair. He said he will move soon on one of the options.

One option is authorizing an existing HASC panel that recently examined defense acquisition reform to “examine further ways of saving money within the Pentagon.” Another option would be to appoint a new panel with the charter to look for new savings. A third option would be to charge each subcommittee to come up with “X-number of savings.”

Up to $30 billion can be saved each year if the defense acquisition reform precepts contained in the 2011 budget are followed by DOD, he said.

Skelton made clear he was unwilling to cut force structure, a move he said was a mistake made in the 1990s that led to critical military personnel shortages in subsequent operations from Bosnia to Iraq. “With ten [Army] divisions, we find ourselves stretched and strained in the conflicts we have today... The problem with using end strength as a bill payer is you never know when you’re going to need them.”

Skelton also made clear that the Navy’s shipbuilding budget would be getting more, not less, money. He’s determined to see the Navy realize their goal of a 313 ship battle fleet, up from today’s 286 ship fleet. Any savings realized within the defense budget top-line are likely to be redirected to buy more ships, he said. “Numbers make a difference, presence makes a big difference… just an American ship in the area makes a big difference.”

Jobs and the economy are the most important issues to his constituents, Skelton said, and he’s willing to use defense spending to create more jobs. “It’s a matter of jobs… when you’re speaking about a second engine I think you’re talking about more jobs,” he said, referring to efforts by his committee to compel the Pentagon to buy a second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter; President Obama has threatened to veto the defense bill if the second engine is included.

He doubted Obama would actually veto the bill over a second engine for the JSF because it also contains a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a policy issue Obama campaigned on and is personally committed to overturning.

Skelton said he expects Gates will try to terminate the Marine Corps new armored amphibian, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. He said the HASC must study the EFV further and see the results from planned tests before it makes a decision on the program.

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