Defense Cuts Prompt Protests From Lawmakers Concerned About Job Losses

With Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposing broad cuts in Pentagon spending, a new war over the president's budget has begun. 

While critics already are warning that the plan could compromise U.S. security, the greater resistance appears to be coming from lawmakers worried that the cuts threaten thousands of jobs in their states. 

Senators and representatives from Georgia, Connecticut, Missouri and other states that house divisions for defense manufacturing were quick to rebuke Gates and said they would fight to retain the programs that have been job engines for their constituents. 

"As we face one of the most trying economic times in recent history, it seems counter-intuitive to take steps that will eliminate high-paying, specialized jobs that are critical to our nation's defense," Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., said in a written statement that warned the Pentagon was "putting thousands of good manufacturing jobs at risk." 

The concerns set up a much more concentrated and localized fight over Obama's budget. Republicans earlier complained that his budget blueprint would produce deep deficits and add unwieldy amounts of money to the national debt, but they kept their criticism of the plan relatively broad. 

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But with so many billions of dollars and thousands of jobs at stake in the Pentagon budget, lawmakers on the both sides of the aisle are taking a hard look at how the defense proposals uniquely will affect those who voted them into office. 

One of the most significant cuts Gates wants to make is to end the F-22 fighter jet, halting production at 187 jets, which the Pentagon has almost reached. 

Lockheed Martin, which produces the $140 million jets, has warned that halting production of the F-22 threatens more than 90,000 jobs.

Georgia lawmakers in particular took a stand against the announcement, because most of the jets are built in Marietta, Ga., and Fort Worth, Texas. Boeing Co., which also is taking a hit under Gates' budget, manufactures the wings and others parts for the F-22 in Seattle. And the engines are supplied by Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies Corp. unit in Middletown, Conn. 

Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Republicans from Georgia, released a joint statement in opposition to the cuts. 

Chambliss called the move "imprudent," and pledged to work to "overturn" Gates' recommendation to end F-22 production. 

"This fight is not finished," he said. 

Isakson accused the administration of wanting to "eliminate 2,000 jobs in Marietta" at a time when unemployment is rising. 

Jeff Goen, president of the union representing Lockheed's employees in metro Atlanta, said layoffs are inevitable unless Congress restores the fighter jet program. 

Matthew Perra, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney, said that without additional F-22 aircraft orders, the company will be forced to halt orders from suppliers within months. 

United Technologies CEO Louis Chenevert has said the diversified manufacturer may cut 2,000 to 3,000 jobs in Connecticut if the Pentagon cancels production of the F-22. 

While ending the F-22 program, Gates announced that Lockheed's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be accelerated. He's recommending doubling the number on order to 30 and increasing funding from $6.8 billion to $11.2 billion. He said the Pentagon ultimately wants to buy 2,443 of them. 

The Pentagon said there are already 38,000 employees working on the F-35, and that the number would shoot to 82,000 in fiscal 2011. 

But Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman said that by cutting F-22 production, "our industrial base will suffer a major blow before the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter reaches full-rate production. 

"This would result in the loss of thousands of jobs in Connecticut -- the skilled workers we will need to support the F-35 in just a few years, but who may no longer be available," he said in a written statement. 

The F-22 cuts aren't the only ones riling lawmakers. 

Gates also called for an end to production of Boeing's C-17 cargo planes. Plans to build a new helicopter for the president and a helicopter to rescue downed pilots also would be canceled. 

The Army's $160 billion Future Combat Systems modernization program would lose its armored vehicles. Plans to build a shield to defend against missile attacks by rogue states also would be scaled back. 

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., complained that an end to production of the C-17, built mainly in Long Beach, would cost 5,000 jobs. 

"It's absurd that this administration would be spending billions to allegedly stimulate the economy with temporary jobs while canceling aerospace contracts that are currently providing thousands of high quality jobs, particularly in southern California. It totally reflects a distorted value system," he said in a statement. 

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., on Monday also said the end of C-17 production, and well as a recommendation to build fewer F/A-18 jets than he says are needed, would have a "severe impact" on the St. Louis job market. He said 4,000 employees in St. Louis are working on the F/A-18, while 1,800 in the city are working on the C-17. 

Benjamin Friedman, a research fellow in defense at the Cato Institute, said the inevitable job losses are what make cutting defense spending so politically difficult. 

But he said Gates' proposed increases in other defense programs could help soften the blow. 

"When you cut programs you're always trying to deal with that concentrated interest and find a way to buy them off," Friedman said. 

Several lawmakers have praised Gates' budget as a level-headed approach to a changing national security picture. 

Gates said Monday his $534 billion budget proposal represents a "fundamental overhaul" in defense acquisition and reflects a shift in priorities from fighting conventional wars to the newer threats U.S. forces face from insurgents in places such as Afghanistan

He anticipates a political fight, but urged lawmakers to put the interest of the country above the interests of their districts. 

"There's no question that a lot of these decisions will be controversial," Gates said. "My hope is that as we have tried to do here in this building -- that the members of Congress will rise above parochial interests and consider what is in the best interest of the nation as a whole." 

FOXNews.com's Judson Berger and The Associated Press contributed to this report.