By David Alexander
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense cuts that begin in the 2012 budget will ultimately cost up to 800,000 jobs, and additional spending reductions could push that figure to 1.5 million over the next decade, a top Republican lawmaker testified on Tuesday.
Representative Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said his panel estimated the initial $489 billion in defense cuts approved by Congress would cost 100,000 military jobs, mostly Army and Marines, as well as 200,000 civilian defense jobs and 500,000 defense industry positions.
"We're looking at ... between 700,000 and 800,000 jobs," McKeon told the House of Representatives Rules Committee during testimony about the compromise National Defense Authorization Act approved on Monday by House and Senate negotiators.
If a second tranche of about $600 billion in defense cuts takes place under legislation passed in August, he added, "that would take those jobs up to about 1.5 million."
McKeon's comments came during a procedural session to establish rules of debate on the defense policy bill, which authorizes $662.4 billion for national defense programs, including $530 billion for the Pentagon's base budget and $115.5 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The bill, which authorizes spending limits but does not appropriate funds, is expected to go to the House and Senate floors for a final vote this week before being sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The authorization measure is the first defense bill to reflect spending cuts approved by Congress in August in an effort to get control over the government's soaring $14 trillion debt.
The final spending levels authorized in the bill are $26.6 billion less than Obama's initial request, with $23.1 billion taken from the Pentagon's base budget and $2.4 billion being cut from the war budget. Actual funding will be appropriated in a separate measure and could differ the amounts authorized.
McKeon offered the estimate on job losses after being questioned about the issue by Representative Rob Bishop, who expressed concern spending cuts and job losses in the defense sector at a time when Obama is pressing Congress for a jobs bill to help put people back to work.
"We're talking about people who already have jobs that we're going to put out on the street in the near future," Bishop said. "Not only are these people who currently have jobs (and are) going to lose them, they do a vital function."
Lawmakers also expressed concern about provisions in the bill that strengthen the military's powers in dealing with detainees in the U.S. war against al Qaeda and affiliated extremist groups.
Obama has threatened to veto the bill over concerns that the new provisions reduced the president's flexibility in dealing with enemy combatants, possibly creating a presumption that they would be dealt with by military tribunals rather than civilian courts.
Top House and Senate negotiators on the bill said they had added changes sought by the White House and hoped the final measure would be approved by the president. But they said they had not received any assurances from the White House that the new language would avoid a presidential veto.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Tuesday, "We're in the process of reviewing the changes that were made to the legislation and to see if those changes address the concerns that we have."
McKeon and Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said the changes were needed to update laws dealing with detainees that were passed shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
"Nobody, frankly, U.S. citizen or non-U.S. citizen, can be held in military detention without getting their day in court," Smith said. "Even those people who don't win their habeas case (seeking release from detention) will have periodic efforts to have that reviewed."