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Candidates balance deficit, defense priorities

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Republicans who are running for Congress are jostling to position themselves as deficit hawks — conservatives who will look to trim spending, cut programs and scale back the growth of government.

Except when it comes to defense spending.

Matthew A. Doheny and Kellie A. Greene, who will face off Tuesday in a Republican primary, hope to burnish images as deficit hawks and defense hawks, a balance that appears to tip the scale toward defense in a district that’s home to Fort Drum.

“Overall, I don’t like the idea of the word ‘cutting’ military spending,” said Ms. Greene, a Sackets Harbor resident and recent graduate of seminary school.

Meanwhile, Mr. Doheny chastises Rep. William L. Owens, whom he’d like to face Nov. 6, for supporting too many cuts in defense spending — despite the fact that Mr. Owens says he has the same position as Mr. Doheny’s military mentor.

All three candidates say that the military could spend less money. But the discussion typically revolves around the safe topics of eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse.”

Mr. Doheny, an investment fund manager from Watertown, said that if he wins in November, he’d hope to be appointed to the House Armed Services Committee. But as for specifics on programs or dollar amounts? Mr. Doheny notes that he’s not a congressman at this moment in time.

“I’m not on the inside,” Mr. Doheny said. “A lot of things are classified.”

While he’s eager to depict Mr. Owens as a spendthrift liberal, Mr. Doheny does object to Mr. Owens’s vote for austerity in one place: defense.

Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, calls the accusation — that he supports $1 trillion in defense spending cuts — unfair and untrue.

In an interview, Mr. Doheny said that the figure is based on the Budget Control Act and President Barack Obama’s budget, which would cut defense spending by about a combined $1 trillion.

But Mr. Owens notes that Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., also voted for the Budget Control Act, a deal that was put in place so that the debt ceiling could be raised. Mr. Doheny said he thinks “quite highly” of Mr. McKeon.

“I think Buck McKeon has been quite outspoken in terms of undoing these cuts and opposing President Obama’s budget, which cuts another half a billion dollars,” Mr. Doheny said.

And that’s exactly Mr. Owens’s position, the congressman said.

“To say that I’m soft on the military is completely inaccurate,” Mr. Owens said.

First of all, he doesn’t support President Obama’s budget, nor the cuts to the military that Mr. Obama has proposed, he said.

And the cuts to the military that Mr. McKeon — and Mr. Owens — are now looking to undo were a result of a dispute over congressional gridlock. The Budget Control Act deferred its cutting decisions to a committee of Congress made up of Democrats and Republicans. The two sides couldn’t agree; Democrats want to raise taxes to help pay down the debt and deficit, and Republicans do not.

Because of that impasse in finding a politically palatable way of cutting, $600 billion in defense cuts were “triggered” to take effect over the next 10 years, much more than Defense Department officials had said was tenable. While Mr. Owens said that the cuts are unlikely to hurt Fort Drum a great deal, he’d like to see them undone.

Legislators are scrambling to come up with a way to cut the deficit without cutting the military. Mr. Doheny said that Mr. Owens should have supported a bill that passed the House in May that would do just that, but Mr. Owens voted against it because it cut elsewhere — food stamps, Meals on Wheels and health programs such as Medicaid and those associated with Mr. Obama’s health care law. The purpose of the bill wasn’t to become law, Mr. Owens said, but to force Democrats like him to choose between two unsavory ends. No Democrat voted for the bill.

“It’s done solely for the purpose that Mr. Doheny is touting it for,” Mr. Owens said.

Ms. Greene, meanwhile, said that she supports what Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., outlined in his budget, which did not become law but passed the House of Representatives. The budget would undo the automatic cuts that came with the Budget Control Act, and cut military spending by about half of what Mr. Obama proposed, according to the Heritage Foundation.

“I think that that’s a reasonable amount,” Ms. Greene said.

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