Defense chief pushes for fiscal 2011 spending bill to avoid 'crisis'

With a little over a month until the expiration of the stopgap continuing resolution funding the federal government, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is urging lawmakers to approve a fiscal 2011 defense spending bill.

Failure to do so, he warned, amounts to a $23 billion cut to the Pentagon's budget this year -- money that will mostly be taken from operations and maintenance accounts, including scaling back training.

"I have a crisis on my doorstep," Gates said Wednesday night during an interview with the Washington Post, New York Times and Associated Press. "And I want them to deal with the crisis on my doorstep before we start arguing about the levels in fiscal 2012."

Gates, who has been pressing Congress for months to approve a spending bill for the fiscal year that started October 1, said cutting needed O&M dollars halfway through the year is "how you hollow out a military even in wartime."

The Pentagon released a transcript of the interview, which was conducted aboard his plane en route to Ottawa.

The current continuing resolution, which expires March 4, funds the federal government at fiscal 2010 levels, which accounts for most of the difference in spending levels between what the Pentagon requested for this year and what it is receiving under the CR.

Gates specifically called out lawmakers who oppose the Pentagon's plans to slash $78 billion in defense funds over the next five years by scaling back and terminating troubled programs and reducing the size of the Army and Marine Corps, arguing that the continuing resolution is more dangerous to the military than the proposed cuts.

"If we ended up with this yearlong continuing resolution, this new Congress would be responsible for a cut that's nearly twice the size of our fiscal 2012 proposal and much, much more damaging," Gates said.

The Pentagon plans to send its budget request for next year to Capitol Hill in mid-February. On Wednesday, several Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee pushed back against the announced cuts, foreshadowing what will likely be a contentious budget season.

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