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Pompeo: Defense cuts wouldn't be 'doomsday'

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, August 17, 2011, at 7:26 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, August 18, 2011, at 3:56 p.m.

The soldier in Mike Pompeo tells him that it's wrong for the nation's defense to take a $350 billion hit if a dozen lawmakers can't reach a bipartisan agreement on trimming the federal debt.

But if that does happen, the Republican congressman from Wichita said Wednesday, "It's not a doomsday for me."

During an wide-ranging interview with The Eagle's editorial board, Pompeo said, "If you're going to shrink the federal government, you're going to have to pretty much shrink it everywhere."

The 12-member "super committee" — six Democrats, six Republicans — will try to get along well enough to forge a consensus on $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions by Thanksgiving. Congress would then have until Christmas to vote on it — right before the calendar flips to the 2012 presidential and congressional election year.

If the committee can't reach a conclusion — and there is serious doubt among lawmakers, including Pompeo, that it can — that would trigger automatic spending cuts as outlined by the recently passed Budget Control Act of 2011.

About $350 billion would come from projected military spending over the next decade. The rest would come from cuts to a variety of domestic programs, such as education, housing and transportation.

Pompeo, a West Point graduate, looks at those possible defense cuts and grimaces. National security is the single mission of the federal government as provided by the U.S. Constitution, he said.

In the waning hours of the debt-ceiling compromise that included the formation of the super committee, Pompeo said, he strongly argued that very point. But defense spending remained on the table.

"I was not thrilled with it," he said.

But Pompeo said he also knew House leadership was trying to reach an agreement and decided the plan was the best attainable outcome for now.

Cuts in national security spending would go beyond the military to such areas as homeland and border security.

"Our national security apparatus is going to have to operate effectively in a constrained fiscal environment as well," Pompeo said, adding that"... we'll find a way to do our national security mission at those levels."

He said there are fellow House Republicans who "disagree with me tremendously."

The committee will be under intense pressure to find an outcome and not let the automatic cuts take effect, he said. Everything is on the table for the committee to reach that $1.5 trillion target. Anything that would reduce spending or increase revenue.

"I don't know what the probability of them coming to a conclusion (is)," he said. "I just think it's pretty low."

He said he doesn't like the very idea of the committee's existence.

It isn't permanent, he said. It has a short time frame to do its work and will be doing it without input from others.

"It's an odd creature," he said. "I would prefer the normal order where things went through subcommittees and committees. It's a truncated process.

"If you've weighed in and said your piece and didn't get the outcome you like, well, it's easier to take sometimes than it is if you feel like you've been jammed."

Pompeo voted for the plan that will eventually lift the debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion and slash deficits by at least $2.1 trillion over the next 10 years. He joined Rep. Lynn Jenkins and Sen. Pat Roberts in supporting the plan to evenly split the Kansas all-GOP delegation.

One of the reasons he voted for the plan is that it calls for both chambers to vote on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution this fall.

Some of the same folks who helped get Pompeo elected last fall are criticizing him for that vote.

"They are anxious to see us do more, and I'm with them on that to be sure," he said. "So, yeah, I get their frustration.

"On balance, I thought it was the right good first step. The next time we go to cut government, we'll be doing it from a little further down the playing field."

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com.

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