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Aide: Obama Shares McKeon's Sequestration Concerns on Syria

Sep. 9, 2013 - 04:12PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
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House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., is voicing skepticism about US President Barrack Obama's push for a military action in Syria, with another $50 billion sequester cut slated to kick in next month. (Mike Morones / Staff)
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WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama told the head of the House Armed Services Committee last week that he shares the GOP lawmaker’s concerns about new military missions amid yearly budget cuts.

A senior House aide tells Defense News that Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., during a meeting among congressional leaders and Obama last week, expressed his concerns to the president about launching Syria strikes with more sequestration cuts ahead.

“They did the around-the-table thing, and Chairman McKeon said, ‘Mr. President, I cannot get past my Syria question,’ ” the House aide said Monday. “After the meeting, the president came around to shake everyone’s hand and he told McKeon, ‘Buck, I have the same concerns.’ ”

On Sunday, McKeon delivered a message for Obama: The House Armed Services Committee chairman would vote for military strikes in Syria if sequestration is canceled.

Appearing Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program, McKeon was asked what it would take for Obama to get his vote for limited military strikes to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons.

His response: “Fix sequestration.”

McKeon recently joined Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., in voicing skepticism about Obama pushing for a new military action with another $50 billion sequester cut slated to kick in next month.

But McKeon on Sunday signaled, unlike Inhofe, Obama would be able to secure his vote on Syria if the president quickly finds a way to address the remaining nine years and around $450 billion in cuts to planned Pentagon spending.

And the chairman said such a “fix” likely would help the White House convince other pro-military members to support a Syria use-of-force resolution, which the lower chamber likely will take up next week.

“If we can fix this, it may help some people in the vote,” McKeon said. “I could not guarantee that we could get votes for it, but I know a lot of people have the same concerns that I do.”

As he entered a classified briefing on Syria on Capitol Hill on Monday, McKeon was asked what he wants from Obama in exchange for his vote on military strikes.

“I’d like some certainty,” McKeon told reporters, saying the military has for too long lacked the ability to “plan ahead.”

Obama alone could not undo the remaining $450 billion in cuts pending under the 2011 Budget Control Act. Congress would have to pass legislation replacing the defense cuts with other deficit-reduction items.

Asked by Defense News if he would be satisfied with a handshake agreement on such a package, McKeon replied: “A handshake agreement, that would be a somewhat credible thing.”

McKeon has requested a meeting with Obama to discuss how a sequester-fix-for-Syria vote arrangement might work. He said he has not yet heard back from the White House. ■

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