Regardless of who won and lost in Gates' plan, what will really matter now is how Congress reacts. So far, Hill reaction to the Gates' moves is cautiously supportive. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) called it a good faith effort but pointedly noted that, "the buck stops with Congress which has the critical Constitutional responsibility to decide whether to support these proposals."
Rep. Murtha praised Gates for taking "an important first step in balancing the Departments wants with our nations needs. For far too long, the Defense Department has failed to address these challenges, and I applaud the Secretary for conducting this comprehensive review." But he echoed Skeltons comments that Congress will have the next say in how the nation spends its treasure.
The ranking Republican on the HASC, Rep. John McHugh (NY), was much more critical. He said that Gates' decision to move substantial amounts of funding that had been in supplemental spending bills into the baseline budget "will be tantamount to an $8 billion cut in defense spending" without an increase in the budget topline. He noted that the GOP supports building such funding into the regular defense budget, just not at the expense of overall spending.
McHugh also questioned Gates on missile defense, saying that the defense secretary's decision to move money to the SM-3 and THAAD programs and to effectively freeze Ground-based Midcourse funding "places unnecessary risk to the homeland. Just a day after North Korea launched a long range ballistic missile the Secretary missed an opportunity to re-commit to investment in missile defense capabilities."
Overall, Gates has made some dramatic decisions. But Winslow Wheeler, a former Congressional budget staffer and now an analyst at the Center for Defense Information, wonders how much will actually change.
"While Washington DC hisses and spits over the secretary's hardware recommendations, it is probably more important to ask, what has changed, and if anything has, where are we now going? It does not appear that the basic DOD budget has changed; this set of decisions may be budget neutral, or it may even hold in its future expanded net spending requirements," he said. "While many decisions were made, the Pentagon ship of state appears to be very much on the same basic course."
-- Colin Clark