Levin to unveil priorities for armed services panel

November 13th, 2006  

Topic: Levin to unveil priorities for armed services panel

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democrat expected to become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in January, wants to take the weekend before announcing his national security priorities.

Levin was asked Wednesday about his agenda as chairman but said he had no answer beyond pressing the Bush administration on Iraq. He said he wanted to wait until talking with other committee Democrats before making any public announcements.

Levin plans a Monday press conference to unveil his plans.

Levin combines two political traits. First, he is a strong supporter of the military, in the mold of Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., the former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who in the 1980s helped break some of the conventional belief that Democrats opposed big defense budgets.

Second, Levin is a fiscal conservative and fierce opponent of government waste, which led him to be among the most vocal supporters of base closing. His support for the last base-closing round put him on the side of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and he worked closely with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Because the current armed services committee chairman, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., was going to be forced by party-imposed term limits to give up his chairmanship, McCain in line for chairman until Democrats narrowly won control of the Senate.

Levin has a good working relationship with Warner, which has helped to keep national defense issues mostly bipartisan ó but the relationship has been so good that Warner often has been criticized for being too close to Levin. During negotiations this fall to complete the 2007 Defense Authorization Act, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the House Armed Services Committee chairman, arranged a private meeting with Warner in an attempt to work out a contentious issue involving military chaplains. Warner refused to talk unless Levin was present, according to sources who worked on the issue.

While a little tight-fisted, Levin has supported major increases in military pay and benefits for active, reserve and retired service members.

Iraq policy has been Levinís overarching issue for the last several years. He has pushed, unsuccessfully, for the Bush administration to take a harder stand with the emerging Iraqi government to let them know the U.S. commitment is not unending.

Levin, who never served in the military, has appeared almost joined at the hip with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., an Army veteran, when talking about Iraq. The two senators have made several trips to the region, and have been pushing for a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces.

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