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November 19, 2009—Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told Politico in an interview that the program turmoil the service encountered in 2009 is not the end; he expects "continuing resource constraints and program challenges."

Defense analysts testifying Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee said much the same thing. While a drop in the defense budget may not come in 2011—the first real Obama Administration defense budget to be presented in February 2010—they all agreed it would come soon. There were mixed feelings as to whether that's good or bad.

Understanding the likely budget constraints on 2011 and the Future Years Defense Program, said committee chairman Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) is "critical" to Congressional fiscal stewardship and its review of the accompanying Quadrennial Defense Review.

He added, "The [defense budget] picture is not a pretty one."

Ranking member Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said many lawmakers believe the defense budget "is not headed in the right direction."

He asserted that pressures on the defense budget from rising personnel and operations and maintenance costs "warrant, in my view, a higher top line."

At the hearing, David Berteau with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it's inevitable for the budget to come down and that the Pentagon must abandon changes former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made to the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System (PPBS), which he said made it "easier for DOD to avoid making the hard choices about requirements, programs, and budgets."

He added that there's "no easy fix" and the answer ultimately may be to "live with more risk than we want."

Thomas Donnelly with the American Enterprise Institute indicated that projections over the FYDP forecast a freeze of baseline defense spending at three percent—or a shade less—of the gross domestic product, such that "the level of investment will not match the level of threat or the level of our strategic need."

The level currently is about 3.6 percent (without war costs), and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen is on record calling for at least four percent of GDP. (Also see Not the Right Answer)

Donnelly maintained, "If we are to preserve American primacy—and the remarkable peaceful, prosperous, and free international system that we have created—we must not only spend smarter, we must try to restrain our appetite for social entitlements.

He added, "But most of all and first of all, we must reverse the trend toward decline and rebuild our armed forces."

Skelton statement

McKeon statement

Berteau statement

Donnelly statement