Pentagon Chiefs: Don't Cut Defense Too Deeply

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's top civilian and military leaders implored Congress on Wednesday not to cut too deeply into military spending, plunging into a heated political debate over how to curtail defense costs without imperiling U.S. strategic interests at a time the military is fighting two wars. [Read more about President Obama's 2012 budget proposal.]

"We shrink from our global security responsibilities at our peril," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the House Armed Services Committee. "Retrenchment brought about by short-sighted cuts could well lead to costlier and more tragic consequences later -- indeed as they always have in the past."

Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are trying to strike a balance between constraining future defense budgets as part of a government-wide effort to reduce budget deficits and preserving U.S. military power. One of the more controversial elements of the administration' proposed 2012 budget is a plan to reduce the size of the Army and Marine Corps starting in 2015. [See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.]

Gates said the Pentagon is asking for $553 billion for the budget year that begins Oct. 1, plus $118 billion in war costs. He also is asserting that the Pentagon will face a crisis if the Congress does not pass a new defense budget for the current year or passes one with significantly reduced funding. So far this year the Pentagon has been required to operate on last year's budget. He said the Pentagon can get by with as little as $540 billion this year. [Read more about national security and the military.]