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Virginia stands to feel the most pain from defense cuts

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says tough economic times require that he shutter Joint Forces Command which employs some 5,000 people and eliminate other jobs throughout the military.

Despite the angry words, there appears to be little recourse for Virginia leaders. The cuts, part of a broad effort to reduce military spending underway since 2008, do not need congressional approval, Pentagon officials said.

At a news conference, Gates noted that Virginia lawmakers might be more willing to stomach the loss of the Joint Forces Command if they consider a possible silver lining of his restructuring: his desire to redirect the savings to other defense programs that could benefit the state.

"If I can add a billion or two to the Navy's shipbuilding budget," he said, "Virginia might come out ahead with more than it loses."

But opposition to the closure nevertheless spanned the Virginia political spectrum. Both of the state's Democratic senators expressed doubts about the decision. Sen. Mark Warner said in a statement that he saw "no rational basis" for shuttering the command.

Sen. James Webb, a former Navy secretary, said the proposal could be "harmful to the capabilities of the finest military in the world."

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said a move to cut the entire combat command must be subject to the "heaviest scrutiny."

But despite the effort to present a united front against Gates's proposal, some partisan cracks emerged within hours of the announcement. McDonnell and Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) accused the Obama administration of looking at the defense budget for cuts instead of at other parts of the federal government. The administration is "selling off our military at auction to pay for its social programs," Forbes said.

Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) responded that a reduction in contracting was inevitable after Republicans pushed jobs that should be performed by government employees into the private sector under President George W. Bush. He said, for instance, that acquisition officers who oversee other, private contracts should be employed by the government for accountability.

And he suggested that Republicans who have spent months calling for reduced federal spending should understand that the pain of trimming must be shared.

"Just as with budget cutting as a whole, when we look at where the impact is, it will invariable be felt by every state and in every district," he said.

Staff writer Craig Whitlock in Washington contributed to this report.

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