Defense budget ‘overhaul’ meets resistance

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates Monday unveiled a sweeping $534 billion budget proposal that shifts priorities from conventional warfare to counterinsurgency, but it is already provoking opposition from some key lawmakers worried about losing more jobs in a deep recession.

The budget for 2010 would cap production of the F-22 fighter jet and reduce funds for missile defense and other big-ticket items, but more than double unmanned craft used in targeting militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The aim of this “fundamental overhaul,” Mr. Gates told reporters at the Pentagon, was to focus on “wars we are in today and scenarios for the years ahead,” including the insurgency in Afghanistan.

The budget, he said, represented “one of those rare chances to match virtue to necessity, to critically and ruthlessly separate appetites from real requirements - those things that are desirable in a perfect world from those things that are truly needed in light of the threats America faces and the missions we are likely to undertake in the years ahead.”

Congressional responses reflected both ideology and concerns about losing production contracts in legislators' districts.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators sent a letter to President Obama on Monday opposing what they described as “deep cuts” in missile and missile-defense programs.

The signers included Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security; Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican; and four others.

The senators said U.S. security would be hurt by Mr. Gates' proposal to cut or reduce funding for the Airborne Laser, Multiple Kill Vehicle program and the installation of more ground-based interceptor missiles in Alaska.

“These proposals would amount to almost a 15 percent cut in the [Missile Defense Agency] budget and a major reduction in our missile defense portfolio - actions that we fear could undermine our emerging missile defense capabilities to protect the United States against a growing threat,” said the letter, which also was signed by Sens. Mark Begich, Alaska Democrat; Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican; Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican; and James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican.

In the House, angry Republicans seized on the timing of the announcement, which came a day after North Korea's unsuccessful launch of a ballistic missile.

“North Korea's launch of a long-range ballistic missile should be a clarion wake-up call to the whole world that this is not the time to diminish our missile-defense budget, as proposed by the Obama administration,” Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, said in a statement.

Mr. Franks, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said that instead of cuts in the nation's missile-defense programs, begun by President Reagan in the 1980s, this “is a moment to strengthen our resolve and our military capability to defend ourselves and our allies, and to work to prevent North Korea's dangerous missile and nuclear proliferation from arming our enemies across the world.”

He was joined by a half-dozen other Republican members of the House Missile Defense Caucus.

However, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee for president last year, issued a statement backing the cuts.

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