North Country congressmen Bill Owens and Chris Gibson are members of different parties, but both voted in favor of legislation to set military policy and funding for the next fiscal year.
Many Republicans, including a candidate running against Owens, want a different approach. Matt Doheny, a Republican challenger to Owens in New York's new 21st Congressional District, criticized the Democrat from Plattsburgh Friday for voting against another bill that would have shifted federal anti-poverty funds toward defense.
Both these bills relate to one Congress passed with bipartisan support last August - the Budget Control Act, which formed a "supercommittee" charged with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts. The supercommittee failed to reach an agreement, which, according to the Budget Control Act, triggered automatic cuts to the federal government, including defense. Top military officials oppose the automatic cuts but agree on some strategic reductions.
U.S. Reps. Bill Owens, left, and Chris Gibson
(Enterprise file photos)
Both Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Gibson, R-Kinderhook, belong to the House Armed Services Committee. Owens served in the Air Force while Gibson is a retired Army colonel.
The National Defense Authorization Act passed the committee 56-5 early Thursday morning, with both Owens and Gibson in the yes column.
The bill contains the same amount of defense spending as House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan's budget - $558 billion - and will be presented to the full House for consideration next week, according to Owens spokesman Sean Magers.
"This legislation helps ensure America's warfighters have the resources they need to complete their mission, secure the nation and return home safely," Owens said in a press release. "It is absolutely critical that we continue to offer complete support to the men and women engaged in combat overseas while helping to strengthen critical training installations like Fort Drum."
Gibson said the bill makes sure the military is "guided by the right policies." He said the legislation isn't perfect but includes several provisions that would have a positive impact on service members.
"Of particular note are provisions preventing Air National Guard cuts that would have a negative impact on New York airmen and their ability to train and prepare for deployments," Gibson said in an emailed statement. "Additionally, this (bill) builds on our success last year supporting nanotechnology, which has tremendous potential for defense applications."
Gibson also said the legislation would dedicate resources to a national study to evaluate veteran reintegration programs.
In a recent interview with the Enterprise, Gibson said cuts to defense spending don't equal a weaker military. After voting in favor of the defense bill on Thursday, he reiterated that point.
"A focus of mine has been to prevent following the false logic that spending more money on defense makes us safer," he said. "It is essential that in a time when we are cutting federal spending across the board, military funding bears an equal share of the cuts.
"This can be done through national security establishment reform, which this bill advances, and will in fact make our nation more secure," Gibson added.
The 2013 defense bill slows the "rate of growth" in military spending, Gibson said. But he added that more can be done. He said he voted to cut nearly $1 billion in defense spending during committee meetings.
"Moving forward, I will be working with my colleagues to achieve those savings before this bill becomes law," he said. "The top line level needs to be reduced before we're finished, and I believe it will."
The defense bill includes several provisions for the Fort Drum Army base in Watertown:
-$95 million for an aircraft hangar
-$17.3 million for a solider specialty care clinic
-$25.9 million for a data terminal complex
The legislation would also give American troops a 1.7 percent pay raise and prohibits Base Realignment and Closure measures in fiscal year 2013.
Doheny, a Watertown businessman whom Owens narrowly defeated in the 2010 election, panned him for voting against the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act, championed by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin. The bill would cut some $310 billion from the federal deficit over the next 10 years. It would protect the military from a $55 billion automatic cut next year by taking tens of billions of dollars from federal programs such as food stamps, day care for children and Meals on Wheels for the elderly.
That bill passed the House Thursday, carried by the Republican majority; no Democrats voted for it, according to The Associated Press. Owens and Gibson voted against it, Gibson being one of 16 Republicans to do so. It's expected to die in the Democratic Party-controlled Senate.
"Once again, my opponent has shown a real weakness on protecting our military," Doheny said in a prepared statement. "This past summer, he voted to cut half a trillion in defense in the future for the ability to keep up his reckless spending spree. Now that the first bill is coming due, Owens would rather protect ObamaCare, stimulus funds, a government-funded bailout of banks and tax breaks for illegal aliens more than our fighting men and women overseas."