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Pentagon downsizing could impact Maryland contractors, service members

February 24, 2014|By David S. Cloud and John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun

Several Republican lawmakers criticized the plan Monday, arguing that cutting ground forces as well as warships and fighter planes could put U.S. security at risk.

"Reducing the size of the Army to its lowest levels in seventy years does not accurately reflect the current security environment," said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican. "Cutting key Air Force and naval capabilities just as we are trying to increase our presence in the Pacific does not make strategic sense."

Maryland lawmakers offered a tepid response to the proposal Monday with several suggesting they wanted more information about how the proposed cuts would translate into changes on the ground in the state. Some of that detail may become available when President Barack Obama unveils his government-wide budget next week.

"We have to make sure we evaluate what the cuts are to make sure they don't make us weaker," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, in an interview. "You also have to look at the jobs."

Rep. Andy Harris, the only military veteran representing the state in Congress, said he opposed cuts under consideration for military families, such as those that help pay for housing on military bases. Harris, a Republican, said the overall "budget will increase non-defense spending by $28 billion and we should cut that spending before we consider cutting benefits for our men and women in uniform."

The cuts may face opposition, as well, because they would require painful reductions to National Guard units around the country, which enjoy strong backing on Capitol Hill. The plan calls for trimming the Army National Guard by 20,000 to 335,000, and the Army Reserve by 10,000 to 195,00.

Defense officials argued that the cuts are necessary to preserve more important capabilities and to keep weapons programs that are vital as the United States places more emphasis on deterring Chinese expansion in the western Pacific, and on preventing terrorist attacks from the Middle East and Africa.

Though both Democrats and Republicans have warned of the danger of deep cuts in defense, neither party has been able to spare the Pentagon budget from sharp declines as Congress grapples with pressure to reduce federal spending.

The Army already was scheduled to shrink to 490,000 by 2015, but with the Pentagon still facing years of reductions in planned future spending, the administration opted to cut manpower further to protect major weapons acquisition programs, notably the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive program in Pentagon history.

The radar-evading F-35, which was largely spared cuts in the Pentagon plan, is assembled in Fort Worth, Texas, but many of its parts come from other parts of the country. The aircraft is being made by Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp.

The company said in a statement that "we are currently reviewing the Pentagon's spending plan as outlined today by Secretary Hagel, and we'll continue to assess the budget once the president delivers it to Congress and they begin their appropriations process."

The Department of Defense accounted for more than $13 billion in spending in Maryland in the 2012 fiscal year.

David S. Cloud is a reporter for Tribune Newspapers. Tribune Washington reporter Michael A. Memoli contributed to this article.

john.fritze@baltun.com

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