Gates surprises lawmakers with plan to cut $78 billion from defense budget

Defense Secretary Robert Gates Thursday told Congress the administration is seeking $78 billion in cuts to the Defense budget over the next five years on top of $100 billion in efficiencies.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said after the morning briefing that he was deeply concerned about the surprising depth of the spending cuts. McKeon said he had gone into the meeting expecting to oppose the plan to trim $100 billion in waste when Gates announced the additional $78 billion in reductions.

“We are fighting two wars, you have China, you have Iran: Is this the time to be making these types of cuts?” McKeon said.

The depth of the cuts exceeded that predicted by defense analysts and appear to show the seriousness with which the White House is pursuing deficit reduction. Analysts had expected the approximately $80 billion in savings returned to the Treasury to come out of the $100 billion in savings Gates was seeking.

Incoming Defense Appropriations subcommittee chairman Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) said after the meeting he was concerned about how the cuts will affect the troops and wanted to know more about how the services would be able to keep the savings they identify because the process was not detailed by Gates.

As expected, Gates told the chairmen and ranking members for the House and Senate Armed Services Committees as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the defense appropriations subcommittees that he wants to cancel General Dynamics's $14 billion Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

The Slamraam missile made by Raytheon is also on the chopping block, while the Marine version of the F-35 is to be delayed under the Gates plan.

McKeon said Gates warned the members that the Pentagon does not want to continue for the rest of the year under the terms of the current continuing resolution funding the government through March 4.

The CR left the Pentagon budget at 2010 levels at $531 billion compared to the $549 billion the Obama administration had sought. McKeon said he would talk to leadership about doing a separate appropriations bill for defense only outside of a continuing resolution funding the government through Sept. 30.

In anticipation of the Gates announcement, House supporters of the Marine Corps, which is being especially hard hit, gathered Thursday morning to plan a strategy. The meeting was attended by Armed Services Committee members Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), John Kline (R-Minn.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and Todd Aiken (R-Mo.), an aide said. Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.) also attended. 

Defense contractors are hoping to rely on this informal Marine CorpS caucus to revive the EFV and preserve F-35B after the two-year probation period.