WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates' proposed budget, which axes some multibillion-dollar weapons projects, is meeting strong resistance from lawmakers whose districts could lose thousands of jobs during a recession.
Members of Congress and military analysts said yesterday that the potential loss of jobs is by far the biggest hurdle the administration's plan must overcome as it looks to build support on Capitol Hill, and they expect some concessions.
Part of Gates' proposed $534 billion military budget represents a shift from outdated weapon systems conceived in the Cold War toward futuristic programs aimed at unconventional foes. Analysts say his challenge is to build support in Congress on those larger issues instead of the parochial interests of individual lawmakers.
Defense consultant Jim McAleese said Gates would face stiff resistance on his plan to end production of Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-22 fighter jets over lawmakers' fears that union jobs with salaries between $60,000 and $80,000 would be lost.
"That will be the job fight," said McAleese, who anticipates that Congress will add 16 more of the planes to the approved total of 187 into the war budget expected tomorrow. Otherwise, the majority of Gates' recommendations should pass, he added.
Aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group agreed, saying the Pentagon's move to add four more of the radar-evading supersonic planes before killing the F-22 program gives Congress extra time to find more cash for it.
Recommendations Gates made Monday to cut weapons projects such as Lockheed's F-22 jet and Boeing Co.'s military transport C-17 plane may mean a substantial loss of U.S. jobs as the unemployment rate stands at 8.5 percent, the highest in a quarter-century.
Gates said he hoped lawmakers would resist temptations to save outdated systems simply to keep jobs in their home districts. But some members of Congress said they would work to overturn Gates' proposals.
"There are certain policy decisions Congress has a say so in, and we are going to have a say," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who wants to buy up to 60 more of the F-22 fighter jets, said yesterday.
In an interview aired on PBS yesterday, Gates said he would stress to Congress the need to reform the Pentagon's weapon buying system, which includes making tough decisions on programs that aren't working.
"When programs are out of control, when they're six years late, when they're twice the cost that they were originally forecast, something has to be done. Something has to give," Gates said.