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Gates Ready to Defend Cuts on the Hill

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday took the first step in what should be an arduous campaign to promote high-profile cutbacks contained in the administration’s proposed $534 billion Pentagon budget.

Meeting with a group of defense reporters at the Pentagon, Gates acknowledged some in Congress will resist his measures to cut a few weapons programs, but he said he is “optimistic— that at the end of the legislative process the budget would reflect his goals.

“Sure, I expect pushback. I know these are not easy issues. But we are going to start the dialogue and sit down with members. … There is support on the Hill for acquisition reform,— Gates said. “Like I said yesterday, I hope lawmakers would rise above parochial interests and think about what’s good for the overall country.—

Gates noted his staff is scheduling meetings with lawmakers, and he said he would start visiting them as soon as Congress returns from recess.

The secretary also expects lawmakers to support his call to scale back the department’s reliance on contractors and to realize the budget has to adapt “to the realities of the wars we are fighting.—

He said his strategy to deal with Capitol Hill in the coming weeks would be to convince lawmakers critical of his plan that if they are on board with reforming a bloated Pentagon budget, then they cannot advocate for weapons programs in their home districts that the Pentagon has identified as wasteful or not essential for the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But Gates also admitted he understands how Washington works.

“Here, you never get 100 percent of what you ask for,— he said.

On Monday, Gates a holdover from the Bush administration announced he intends to buy smaller, low-tech weapons and slash massive programs no longer relevant to the current “irregular— wars. These included the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor jets and the Army’s Future Combat Systems.

Some Members of Congress and many interest groups reacted fiercely to the announcement, insisting such cuts would affect national security.

According to his staff, Gates will take his message to the Sunday talk shows.

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