Gates criticizes GOP for proposed cuts to Defense spending

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday said the House GOP budget for the Pentagon is "disconnected" from operational realities.

Gates said the Pentagon needs $540 billion for fiscal 2011, less than the $548 billion initially sought by the Obama administration but $14 billion more than what House Republicans are offering in a continuing resolution to fund the government for the rest of the year. 

Gates told reporters the current funding level is “disconnected from strategic … and operational realities.” The secretary added a reduction of that size would be “disconnected from the real world.”

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Pentagon officials have determined “we can get by with a smaller number” of about $540 billion as compared to the original Obama request, Gates said.

Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale told reporters a continuing resolution already has caused problems, and would continue to do so.

For instance, the Navy was recently unable to purchase a Virginia-class submarine as planned.

What’s more, the military services have ordered bases to suspend contracting, meaning those facilities are doing monthly deals with suppliers “that are inefficient,” Hale said.

The department cannot launch new programs or increase buy rates of needed combat platforms, he added. And “our people suffer,” Hale said, because projects like building new barracks and housing will have to be put off.

“We need the Congress to enact an appropriations” bill, not a yearlong continuing resolution, the comptroller said.

Meanwhile, Gates sent a message to the dozens of new House members who are aligned with the Tea Party and campaigned on massive federal funding cuts: Kill the second F-35 engine program.

DoD officials for years have tried to terminate the alternative engine effort, saying it is not needed. But prime contractors Rolls-Royce and General Electric have rallied enough support in Congress to keep it alive. Pratt & Whitney is building the primary F-35 power plant.

The latest version of the alternative engine clash comes amid a new backdrop: Congress is focused on deep spending cuts to help shrink the massive federal deficit, and some critics of the second F-35 engine call it an earmark.

Gates urged the new members to agree with Pentagon officials that it is “an unnecessary and extravagant expense.”

The secretary announced he has decided to fund the program “on a month-to-month basis” while giving “Congress the opportunity to resolve it.”

The secretary even suggested new members take advantage of House leaders’ rule for the 2011 CR that will allow lawmakes to make amendments about any budget- or deficit-related issue.

He said he hopes the House will debate the program on the floor and “vote on it.”

Rolls and GE said almost immediately after Gates’s comments that they would welcome a House debate on the F-35 engine situation.

“We couldn't agree more — there needs to be a debate on whether to hand a $100 billion monopoly of a single engine supplier whose costs are out of control,” GE spokesman Rick Kennedy said in an e-mailed statement. “There was already a debate before the full House last May, and the House authorized funding for competing [F-35] engines.”

New delays to the development and test schedule of the F-35 mean it will be delivered later, and Kennedy said that means “all combat-capable F-35s procured by the U.S. military and its international allies can be delivered with the choice of either competing engine.”