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TEXT-McKeon's remarks on U.S. defense spending, Afghan war

 WASHINGTON, Nov 3 (Reuters) - A Republican lawmaker who is
expected to play a central role in setting U.S. military policy
in the new Republican-led Congress said on Wednesday he wanted
to boost defense spending but would not alter President Barack
Obama's deadline to start pulling out of Afghanistan.
 In a telephone interview with Reuters, Representative
Howard "Buck" McKeon, expected to become the next chair of the
House Armed Services Committee, also balked at Obama's plans to
push through a repeal of the military's ban on gays before the
new Congress takes power in January.
 Following is a transcript of his remarks, with questions
abbreviated for brevity. A full story can be seen at
[ID:nN03130866].
 AFGHANISTAN
 Reuters: Should there be any changes to Obama's July 2011
deadline to start withdrawing from Afghanistan?
 McKeon: My problem with the deadline was if it was done,
period. Because I thought that undermined us with some of our
NATO allies and with the people in Afghanistan and it gave a
talking point to the Taliban to say: "Hey, they're going to be
gone anyway. We'll just wait them out. And if you help them
(U.S. forces) out, remember we're going to be here." So the
damage is done.
 "What I think we need to focus on is whenever the Secretary
or the commanders would come up to testify, they all have said
it would be based on conditions on the ground. So I've also
been reading (Bob Woodward's book) "Obama's Wars" ... and I get
the feeling some of the things that came out of their meetings
are a little bit different than what we've heard. So, I think
we just want to be very careful that this isn't used as an
opportunity to pull everybody out and leave the Afghans hanging
and leave the potential for al Qaeda to come back in for
another safehaven.
 Reuters: But the actual deadline itself, you're not going
to press for that to be changed?
 McKeon: No. I think that's installed."
 PAKISTAN
 Reuters: On Pakistan, will the House press for more
pressure to be put on Islamabad to crack down on militants than
has been done over the past two years?
 McKeon: Well, I think actually they've done quite a bit.
We've made some pretty good progress there. But I don't think
you solve Afghanistan if you don't solve Pakistan. So it's a
package deal and I think we need to be focus on, everybody
needs to understand that. That all they have to do is go across
the border into Pakistan and it's 'Olly, Olly Oxen Free.' We've
been able to put pressure on ... I think that all we have to do
is just make sure that we keep the pressure on and understand
that we have to win in both places.
 ALTERNATE ENGINE FOR F-35
 Reuters: Do you expect to be in a stronger position now to
argue in favor of an alternate engine for the F-35 now that you
have control of the House?
 McKeon: Well, I hope so. But that hasn't been a partisan
position. I mean, the committee supported it. We have it in our
mark. And that's more of an issue probably between
appropriators or with the Senate. So I think we will continue
to push for it because we think it's the better of the
options.
 Reuters: So you really don't necessarily there will be any
big change that would change the administration's position?
 McKeon: Well, I never have felt that the president would
really veto a bill based on that issue. You know, we have a
history of having two engines. They're saying in the short run
it costs more money. But the things that we've looked at in the
long run, we think the competition is good and probably will
result in savings. Plus it's a safety issue, if one engine goes
down and all you have is that engine, you're in big trouble.
 (General Electric Co GE.N and Britain's Rolls Royce
RR.L engine are developing an alternate to the engine being
built by United Technologies Corp UTX.N unit Pratt &
Whitney.)
 'DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL'
 Reuters: President Obama said in his news conference he may
push for a repeal of 'Don't Ask, 'Don't Tell' during the lame
duck session of Congress. What are your feelings on this?
 McKeon: I think that's unwise. You know, we had a process
in place. We have a study that has been undertaken. People have
been hired, they have done a lot of interviews. I have not seen
the study yet. It was supposed to come back in December. Now, I
really would like to see that before any effort is made to push
this thing through. I think that something as disruptive as
that could potentially be in the military, and figuring all of
these people that have lost their elections that would be
making that kind of a decision, I just think that's not a wise
(move)... Because I think the only reason they're trying to do
it is political. And I don't think the military should be used
as a political football."
 DEFENSE SPENDING
 Reuters: Do you believe there is a need for a greater
increase in overall defense spending?
 McKeon: We're spending less than at times in the past and
we're involved in two wars, as a percentage of our gross
product. So I think, myself, I think you have to be very
careful of the taxpayer dollar and I think the things the
Secretary (of Defense) is pushing for with increased savings
through efficiency. I support that. But I also support a higher
top line because we have underlying costs that are taking such
a high percentage of our budget that we're not going to have
enough to do the R&D and do the weaponry spending to provide
the wherewithal to have the defense that we need. So, you know,
they cut back in missile defense. They cut back in the F-22.
They cut back in the next generation bomber. All these things
for the future, and we can't wait for the future to come. We
need to be prepared for it. So, I think we need more money in
defense and I think we need to do a better job spending that
money.
 (Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Jackie Frank)


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