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WASHINGTON — The budget fight on Capitol Hill began just minutes after the fiscal 2010 defense plan was unveiled Monday.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Jim Webb expressed deep concerns about reductions in Navy shipbuilding. Another group of senators lead by Alaska Democrat Mark Begich sent a letter criticizing proposed cuts in missile defense.

House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McHugh of New York called the budget cuts too drastic for a nation still fighting overseas. Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma called it a plan to "disarm America," adding "never before has a president so ravaged the military at a time of war."

Even supportive lawmakers, who praised Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the White House for making tough fiscal decisions to rein in military spending, emphasized that now they’ll be the ones to determine which programs actually need to be funded.

Analysts predict a tough congressional fight for next year’s $534 billion defense budget. John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, met with Gates on Tuesday morning and said the secretary "feels like the entire Congress is thundering down the field at him."

Over-budget and overdue programs, such as the Army’s Future Combat Systems vehicles, the VH-71 Presidential Helicopter and the Air Force’s combat search and rescue helicopter are to be eliminated.

Lower cost and more flexible platforms like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and unmanned aerial vehicles will see increases, as will programs to fund more helicopter maintenance crews and special operations forces.

William Hartung, a defense analyst with the New America Foundation, said he believes the cuts in bloated weapons programs are long overdue, but acknowledged that lawmakers with defense contractors in their districts won’t see it that way.

"The budget is hitting multiple targets, so that could give [the administration] some political cover," he said. "But we’ve already had major lobbying by the industry on this. It’s going to be a long fight."

For his part, Gates said Monday that he’s hopeful lawmakers can "rise above parochial interests" and approve most of the budget plan.

"I set out here to develop a budget that I thought best served the national security interests of the United States," he said. "And I decided that I would not take the political issues associated with any of these programs into account. I would just do what I thought was best for the country."

Gates and President Barack Obama may have an unlikely ally in their effort to convince Congress to uphold the cuts: Sen. John McCain.

The unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate, still the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Monday’s budget plan "a major step in the right direction" and said he strongly supports the decision to restructure the way major defense programs are handled.

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