By Emelie Rutherford

Republicans took control of the House yesterday delivering a message of fiscal austerity, just as Defense Secretary Robert Gates planned to propose cuts to weapon systems today.

After House members elected Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) their new speaker yesterday, he pledged to rein in federal spending without specifically mentioning Pentagon funding or other aspects of the budget. Yet the day before, new House Republican Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told congressional reporters that everything, including defense spending, is “on the table” for cuts.

If and how the newly empowered House Republicans, who gained a majority of the seats in the chamber and control of its committees after the Nov. 2 elections, will approach Pentagon cuts remains to be seen.

New House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) has already pledged to resist calls to reduce military spending and shift funding to areas including missile defense (Defense Daily, Nov. 4, Nov. 16).

McKeon said late last year that “cutting defense spending amidst two wars is a red line for me and should be a red line for all Americans.”

Gates plans to brief lawmakers and reporters today about defense programs he wants to cut as part of his “efficiencies” push to trim roughly $100 billion from the Pentagon budget over five years. Gates has hoped to use the savings to allow for greater spending on weapon systems and warfighting capabilities, because the Obama administration wants just a modest increase in the defense budget, in terms of real growth. Yet some pundits believe Gates will not be allowed to keep those saved funds within the Pentagon’s coffers.

Observers expect Gates will call for ending the Marine Corps’ long-delayed development of Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), General Dynamics‘ [GD] tracked amphibious vehicle that experienced rising costs and technical glitches earlier this decade.

Also this week, the chairmanship of the powerful House Appropriations Defense subcommittee (HAC-D) is slated to be decided on Friday by the House Republican Steering Committee. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young (R-Fla.), who served as ranking Republican on the HAC-D under Democratic control, may reassume the chairmanship he previously held. Young needs a waiver to do so from the steering committee, because he has served the maximum number of terms in the subcommittee GOP leadership spot allowed by Republican rules. Young has said he expects to receive a waiver.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) is the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee (HAC). He named William Inglee, the recently retired Lockheed Martin [LMT] vice president for global security policy who lobbied Congress in recent years, to be the panel’s staff director and chief clerk.

On the HASC, McKeon is the new chairman and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) is the ranking member. Smith landed the Democratic leadership spot last month after beating colleagues Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas). The HASC lost its top four Democrats to reelection defeats last Nov. 2: Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), John Spratt (D- S.C.), Solomon Ortiz (D- Texas), and Gene Taylor (D-Miss.).

Some veteran HASC staffers who worked for the previous Democratic majority stayed on, either working for the new Republican majority or remaining with Democratic lawmakers on the HASC’s minority side. Will Ebbs, a HASC staffer who worked on shipbuilding issues, is among the congressional aides who did not return to work in the GOP-controlled House.

The HASC subcommittee’s new leaders include: Air and Land Forces Chairman Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.); Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Chairman Todd Akin (R-Mo.); Strategic Forces Chairman Michael Turner (R-Ohio); Oversight and Investigations Chairman Rob Wittman (R-Va.); and Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). HASC Democrats have not set the ranking members of the subcommittees yet because House Democratic leadership had not yet assigned members to the committee as of yesterday.