Earlier today, Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon was ratified by his peers within the House Republican Conference to serve as the Ranking Member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee during the 111th Congress.
This comes as the Armed Services Committee begins consideration of H.R. 2647, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, legislation which authorizes national security programs and policies for the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy.
Taking the reins of his new role, McKeon delivered the following remarks as his first major action as Ranking Member and at the onset of the markup:
"Thank you Mr. Chairman, it's an honor to sit next to you as the Ranking Member of this Committee. As many of you know, I came to the Congress to work on defense issues. After serving as Ranking Member on the Education and Labor Committee, I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to devote my full attention to America's men and women in uniform and work with you to address the national security issues facing this country.
"I would be remiss, Mr. Chairman, without saying a word about the outgoing Ranking Member, John McHugh. I know you'll agree, Mr. Chairman, that this committee, this Congress, the 23th District of New York will all miss the leadership of John McHugh. I know John cannot presume Senate confirmation, but we know-John McHugh will make an exceptional Secretary of the Army. The Committee's loss is the Army's gain.
"Mr. Chairman, I look forward to working with you and the members of this committee in a bipartisan manner to continue and improve upon the long tradition of supporting the warfighter with needed resources even in a time of economic turmoil. Our defense must come first. However, I hope to continue the progress you and Mr. McHugh have made in pushing the Services to spend smarter and more effectively. I also hope that we can work together to improve our oversight function in order to provide timely direction. Finally, I look forward to working with you to increase transparency and accountability within the Department ensuring Congress has voice in the future of our defense.
"That said, this legislation reflects our committee's strong and continued support for the brave men and women of the United States armed services, as well as their families. It also reflects many of this committee's bipartisan priorities in supporting our military forces. Before we begin, I would like to highlight several key areas in this Full Committee Chairman's Mark.
"Let me begin with the top line. After taking in to account the migration into the base budget of items previously funded in the supplemental and as one expert recently pointed out, the inflation rate's expected increase, the net effect is essentially no real growth. As a result, the Committee had limited headroom in which to address many of the programmatic cuts that accompanied Secretary Gates' so called 'reform budget.' I want to commend the Chairman who, despite these challenges, included a number of measures in the mark that redress some of the shortcomings found in the Administration's request.
"Let me offer a few examples. This mark includes provisions that will fund the F136 alternative engine for the joint strike fighter, add advance procurement funding for the F/A-18 E/F program, and make significant contributions to the National Guard and Reserve Equipment fund. Moreover, this mark takes steps to address some of the Unfunded Requests of the Services Chiefs-but more needs to be done.
"From the time Secretary Gates testified in May, this Committee took issue with what many believed was inadequate analysis supporting the President's budget. This mark upholds the practice of this Committee: in the absence of transparency, data, and detailed justification we will depart from a Presidential budget request. I expect this point will be reinforced as we proceed in this markup.
"This mark includes policy provisions that guide the Department of Defense in the right direction on a number of issues. On the strategic level it includes provisions ensuring the 2009 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) complies with the law. The mark establishes a bipartisan National Defense Panel that will provide the Congress with an independent assessment of the QDR-complete with alternative views.
"With respect to Iraq and Afghanistan, this mark authorizes the Fiscal Year 2010 Overseas Contingency Operations, or what was previously referred to as the war-time supplemental funding request. The mark also updates reporting requirements for both theatres. The Department will have to report on the factors driving the redeployment timeline in Iraq and provide the committee with key indicators of progress in Afghanistan. These are prudent oversight measures that seek the assessments of our commanders on the ground.
"With respect to Pakistan, I support the Administration's original request for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF) to serve as a tool for the Commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) to train and equip Pakistan's security forces. I disagree with those House Appropriators who believe PCCF is a foreign assistance authority that should be managed by the State Department. In fact, I spoke with General Petraeus just last week, and he raised some valid concerns about how this funding will be implemented. In matters of national defense, the chain of command should go from the Combatant Command to the Pentagon-not Foggy Bottom.
"As in previous marks, the committee continues to address the Department's global train and equip authorities. In my view building partnership capacity programs is an essential tool for Combatant Commanders; I believe the mark reinforces this point. Yet, I regret that it does not include any of the Administration's train and equip requests, including an authority to train and equip NATO special forces units for operations in Afghanistan.
"Building on the steps taken in the Terrorism mark that funded the NATO Special Operations Coordination Center, this mark includes a number of provisions from the bipartisan NATO First Act that seek to strengthen transatlantic security. This is a good start. I think this committee needs to do more to increase transatlantic links and strengthen our allies and partners, particularly in the area of missile defense.
"No shortcoming is more apparent in this mark than in the area of national missile defense. In a year where Iran and North Korea have demonstrated the capability and intent to pursue intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapon programs-the elements of a genuine national security threat, it would be irresponsible not to fund programs that provide long range missile defense that protects the homeland. Are we so confident in our diplomatic efforts with Iran and North Korea that we can afford a nearly 90 percent cut in European Missile Defense and a 35 percent cut to our homeland missile defenses in Alaska and California? If there are discretionary dollars available, one of this Committee's priorities should be to restore this funding.
"With that said, I'd like to thank Chairman Skelton for putting together this mark. I look forward to working with my colleagues to improve this package, as appropriate, and pass this bill."