One defense expert emails his thoughts:
Clearly the White House and Gates were able to strong-arm wondering Dems, like Kerry in particular. I would say prospects in conference not good; House provision was weaker and so are the House politicians involved.
At a little higher level, this is what happens when defense budgeting is a zero-sum game. Even any Army end-strength increase is going to have to come out of some other hide (don't expect that allegedly walled-off FCS money to be around very long).
This is also a very good day for the ChiComs: less for them to worry about, not only from us but from the Japanese (this pretty much kills export of F-22). And it is a big step in confirming the long-term decline of US defenses that the Obama budget/program represents. Even if much/most of his domestic program doesn't make it, he's begun locking in yet another decade of defense neglect.
There will soon be a crisis of American airpower: old F-15 and F-16s, aging F-18s and not enough of them to fill carrier decks, too few F-22s (that you're going to be very reluctant to use) and late arriving (and limited) F-35s (and what's the likelihood that F-35 goes forward according to plan?), plus a dinky and old bomber fleet. I haven't worked out the numbers, but if you look forward 7-10 years, the picture has got to be very ugly.
But then again, since there are going to be no tankers, it doesn't matter that there are no fighters.