Bush Defense Cuts Loom

Though President Bush campaigned for election by promising the military "help was on the way" after what he called years of neglect, his administration is now finalizing proposals this week for making big cuts in the armed forces.

Although the proposed cuts are less severe than first suggested, they are the most widespread in years.

The services are still resisting the cuts, but ABCNEWS has learned details about where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld now appears to be headed.

The Pentagon has been laying the groundwork for these changes by saying it is essential to cut forces if the United States is going to realistically meet overseas commitments.

But as the services themselves fight the proposed cuts, bitter opposition is anticipated on Capitol Hill, even from the president's own party.

"They did take the president as a campaigner at his word that 'help is on the way' and to find out that help is now on the wane is not a good thing for them," said Daniel Goure, senior fellow at the Lexington Institute.

The cuts are needed to pay for the administration's proposed missile defense system, increased readiness and rising costs for military pay and health care. Add to that the cost of advanced new weaponry, such as the Air Force F-22 fighter, a $45 billion program approved for production this week.

With a new strategy that calls for fighting just one major war along with several smaller contingencies — not two wars simultaneously — the administration will argue that a smaller force is more than adequate.

"We already outspend the next eight militaries in the world combined. It's not realistic to expect Bush to put most of the rest of the remaining surplus into a defense buildup," said Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Though Bush came into office promising to help restore the military, economic reality has overtaken campaign rhetoric.

"To keep this military, you'd have to increase the budget by $50 billion each and every year in the future," O'Hanlon said. "There is just no political way that's going to happen. Mr. Bush's tax cut makes it implausible."

The cuts are expected to be finalized by the end of the week, but that may be just the beginning of the fight on all this.

John McWethy and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

Goure, a senior fellow at the public policy think tank, gives his take on the coming defense cuts.

Why cut?

"We don't have enough money. If the force is going to be modernized, if we are going to be able to meet the threats of the 21st century, additional money for new capabilities, and the only place that can come from now because of tax cuts and other issues is from defense force structure."

Campaign promises

"The president did say that he wanted to transform the military, I suspect they are going to argue that by getting smaller they can more rapidly transform which was the ultimate goal."

Transformation "If you are leaping ahead to the kind of capabilities that are going to allow us to perform better and more safely in the 21st century, it means replacing aging tactical fighters such as the F-15 and F-16 with the F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter. It means changing the way the Army does business."

Capitol Hill

"The idea that we are going to cut more forces at a time when we haven't reduced our demands overseas I think it's going to be met with opposition on both sides of the aisle … This is going to be met in the end with significant opposition, severe opposition even, on both sides of the aisle. For the Democrats, it's an opportunity to make political gain if you will at the expense of the administration. For the Republicans, they I think as the majority expected something different from this administration. They did take the president as a campaigner at his word that help is on the way, and to find out that help is now on the wane is not a good thing for them.

Necessary?

"It is absolutely essential that we begin to really transform the structure and even the strategy in which we employ military forces. We are still living with a Cold War/Gulf War approach to warfare.

President Bush

"If we are going to make these cuts, if we are going to transform the military then the president has to be behind it 110 percent and he has to demonstrate that … Thus far he has not yet demonstrated that he is committed and will back his secretary completely … Part of the reason for this difficulty in the need to cut forces is because of the tax cut that the president put through. That may have been good domestic policy but here is where the consequences of that. And the president has to stand up and say if you will, I take responsibility for where we are now and where we are going. I made these decisions, the tax cuts on the one hand, the reducing military forces on the other."

O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan think tank, gives his take on the defense cuts below.

Difficulty

"It's going to be very tough. No one is going to be happy about this. Hawks are going to say 'We shouldn't cut; we've already cut too far.' Democrats will be more than happy to see Rumsfled take the heat."

Capitol Hill

"It's not going to be popular on Capitol Hill, but Mr. Rumsfeld is doing the right thing. We have no real choice."

Budget Situation

"To keep this military you'd have to increase the budget by $50 billion each and every year in the future — $50 billion higher than it is today. There is just no political way that's going to happen. Mr. Bush's tax cut makes it implausible."

Priorities

"The tax cut made Mr. Rumsfeld's job very hard. I think Mr. Bush said to the country, 'My top priority is the tax cut.' Also, Rumsfeld is finding out the hard way now that Bush wants to put some of the remaining money into domestic initiatives. That's no huge surprise, we are a democracy at peace and most Americans are not going to support a huge defense buildup. And Bush is a good enough politician to recognize that if he put all of his remaining dollars into defense he probably would lose his re-election bid."

Coping

"It's not an easy time and the services aren't going to be happy but they do have to get realistic and pay attention to the broad fact: we already outspend the next eight military powers in the world combined. It's not realistic to expect Bush to put the rest of the remaining surplus into a defense buildup."