Obama seeks $676 billion for defense programs

Warns spending freeze may produce a crisis in military

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The Obama administration on Monday announced its request for $676 billion for military and defense programs next year and warned House Republicans that plans to freeze defense spending for this year risks triggering a “crisis.”

The fiscal 2012 defense budget includes $117 billion to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; $553.6 billion for Pentagon programs plus $5.1 billion in required spending, according to figures provided by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The budget request includes $2.3 billion for funding cybersecurity programs and $975 million for two next-generation communications satellites.

It also calls for $10.7 billion to fund an array of ballistic missile defense programs and weapons and adds funds for a new long-range bomber — the first to be capable flying with either manned crews or remote pilots.

The request allocates a total of $203.8 billion for weapons procurement and research, including $9.7 billion for 32 F-35 jet fighters, and $4.7 billion for two Virginia class submarines.

President Obama speaks Monday at Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology in Parkville, Md. At right is Jacob Lew, Office of Management and Budget Director. (Associated Press)

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President Obama speaks Monday at Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology ... more >

If passed by lawmakers, the defense budget — excluding war costs — would be the largest in the nation’s history.

The budget for next year — and decisions about current-year spending left unresolved by the last Congress — are expected to provoke a major political showdown between the Obama administration and House Republicans in the coming weeks amid growing concern about the spiraling national debt.

And Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that the defense budget is caught in the crossfire.

The past Democrat-controlled Congress failed to pass a formal budget for fiscal 2011, which began Oct. 1 last year, and the Pentagon — along with the rest of the U.S. government — instead is being funded by a series of stopgap legislative measures called continuing resolutions.

Mr. Gates told reporters in announcing next year’s defense budget that the use of continuing resolutions this year posed “difficulties that may soon turn into a crisis, depending on what happens on the Hill during the next few weeks.”

The current funding bill for the Pentagon is short of needed funds by $23 billion for 2011 — $526 billion versus $549, he said.

Last week, House Republicans proposed to keep funding at that level for the rest of the year.

“The damage done across our military from that reduction would be magnified as it comes halfway through the fiscal year,” Mr. Gates said. The Pentagon needs “at least $540 billion for fiscal year 2011, for the U.S. military to properly carry out its missions, maintain readiness and prepare for the future,” he said.

Mr. Gates added that the $117 billion for the wars — the lowest amount since the Iraqi surge began in 2007 — was based on a drawdown of the last U.S. troops from Iraq, but contained sufficient funds to keep all 97,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan all year, despite plans to pull at least some of them out.

“Since we don’t know how many troops will be reduced … it just makes more budget sense to do this conservatively and budget on a straight-line basis … depending on the size of the drawdown, then that may be money we just don’t spend,” he said.

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