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Military services largely on board with Gates's defense budget

But it could be the lull before the storm as lobbyists and lawmakers begin to weigh in on controversial cuts.

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates's controversial new budget is not yet meeting the stiff resistance that even he expected from members of Congress, industry officials, and senior officers inside his own Pentagon. It's a sign that many of the wide-ranging reforms contained in his half-trillion-dollar spending plan could succeed.

Last week, Mr. Gates unveiled the broad brush strokes of a $534 billion budget for fiscal 2010 that includes ending some programs and cutting others he thinks are irrelevant or too expensive and that initially prompted outcry from some members of Congress.

But in the days since, Gates and his aides have pointed to more support for his budget than opposition. That may stem from what many experts see as the writing on the wall: His proposals come amid an economic crisis in which there is an appetite to contain the massive defense budget despite the political popularity of many programs. And for more than a year, Gates has railed against programs that don't meet the needs of soldiers fighting current conflicts.

For example, he has proposed capping the Air Force's centerpiece acquisition program, the F-22 stealth fighter, at 187 aircraft. Some lawmakers remain extremely concerned about the proposal, but the criticisms are less strident.

"I have actually been fairly pleasantly surprised," Gates told reporters during a trip to Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama to sell his proposals to the military's rank-and-file. "It seems to me that a lot of the responses have been thoughtful and [members] are willing to take this seriously in the vein that it was intended." He mused that the silence could be because some lawmakers are out of town. "I don't know if I'm in the eye of the storm," he joked.

Gates likely will get much of what he wants, but only after some compromise, says a staffer for a Democratic member of the House Armed Services Committee. Sens. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan and John McCain (R) of Arizona are both generally supportive of many of Gates's aims.


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