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Gates to Congress: Do the Patriotic Thing, Not the Parochial Thing

To flesh something out about how Defense Secretary Bob Gates wants the services to stay in line during the upcoming budget battle on the Hill, in response to a question asked by American University’s Gordon Adams during the conference call today, Gates said he saw two lines of criticism emanating from Congress. First, there’s concern from members of Congress who are “worried about losing jobs in their states and their districts.” Then “the other problem” — interesting choice of words there — is from “people who have concerns about the decisions that we made for substantive reasons,” like Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who don’t want Gates to restructure missile defense. How’ll he deal with those concerns?

In the former case, my hope is to try to persuade them to look beyond the parochial interest and do what’s best for the nation as a whole. There isn’t a single program — everyone agrees on the need for acquisition reform. But the reality is you can’t change a single program in this building, in this entire defense budget, without affecting somebody’s district or somebody’s state. And so trying to look more broadly at the national interest is my hope on the first.

Oh, snap! That’s some strong language there.

On the second point, “We just have to sit down and work with them and talk with them about what we’re doing, why we made the decisions we have, what we’ve done to mitigate risk, and just have that dialogue with them.”

He also didn’t have much patience for the line from Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) that the defense budget includes an $8 billion cut. Asked about it by Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations, here’s what Gates had to say:

The math is as follows, as far as I’m concerned. The FY ’09 budget, which was $513 billion submitted by President Bush, had a figure for FY ’10 of $524 billion for the Defense Department. We got roughly $10 billion more than that. We made the decision to put the full cost, to cover the full cost of the increase in the end strength of the Army and the Marine Corps and holding the strength of the Navy and the Air Force into the base budget. We probably could have put some of that into the supplemental — the supplemental for ’09 and the Overseas Contingency Operation for ’10. So some of these things we have put in the base budget we elected to put into the base budget to send a signal to the troops that these things were going to be a permanent part of the budget, that we weren’t going to be dependent on a supplemental. That included some of the plus-ups in the medical research, in the quality-of-life issues with troops, and several of these things that amounted altogether to about $13 billion.

We probably could have justified a significant portion of that going into the supplemental. We elected to put that into the base budget. So how you count where we are depends on your view of the whole thing. So you could come out with a bunch of different numbers. I think with the four percent is simply what we got compared to the ’09 enacted legislation. So the $537 or whatever it is [it's $533.7 -- SA] is two percent real growth over where we were in FY ’09. How you then meet that calculation, what you chose to put into the supplemental and so on, is probably how Mr. McHugh gets to his numbers.

Gates added, “virtually every decision I announced yesterday I would have made regardless of what our topline was. If our topline had been $581 billion, I would have made the same decisions I made and announced yesterday.”

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