By Steven Tavares

Defense Secy. Robert Gates says
Pentagon may need to cut over
$23 billion from its budget.

Despite his 79 years, Stark has been far more vocal since the Republicans took over the House last November than in the past. He has warred with health insurers with sharp words over their steep rise in revenues coinciding with sky-high premiums for customers. Now, he appears to be making an end-run with other local Democrats at conservatives touting deficit reduction.

This week, he offered a House bill in response to a Republican-led resolution freezing non-defense related expenditures to 2008 levels. Stark has long spoke out against the large amount of funding the government allocates towards defense over domestic programs. The Defense and Debt Reduction Act would lower defense spending to the same 2008 outlay. He says the bill would save $182 billion.

We can’t be serious about reducing the deficit if we’re going to wall off 60 percent of our discretionary spending from cuts,” said Stark. “This legislation would save $182 billion, from a sector riddled with extra planes and engines that the Pentagon doesn’t want. At a time when we are spending seven times the next closest nation on our military, we must look toward defense for waste and potential savings.

In his State of the Union Tuesday President Obama also called for a freeze on non-defense spending similar to the Republicans plan. While he praised the president’s address, Stark singled out the plan for criticism. “I respectfully disagree with this approach–an eyes-closed, unilateral freeze will gut important programs that Americans depend on,” he said. “There is no reason we should exempt 60 percent of federal discretionary spending from budget cuts.”

The East Bay’s other representative, Barbara Lee, also urged the president to look at also making cuts to defense. Lee is arguably the most progressive member of the House and a vociferous opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We can make meaningful and safe cuts to the defense budget, safely end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Lee “and close loopholes for millionaires that will immediately save billions of dollars and allow us to make vital investments for our nation’s future.”

The push by Democrats to include cuts to defense spending as Republicans tout deficit reduction in other segments of the budget will likely continue for the next few months and likely allowing the president to tack to the center.

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