- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2011

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.

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.

Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale stated later that, as officials announced previously, the budget aimed to produce $178 billion in savings over five years — mainly from canceling major weapons programs such as the Marine Corps’ amphibious assault vehicle, and through cuts in Marine Corps and Army forces.

Mr. Hale said $100 billion of the savings would be used for other spending, while the remaining $78 billion would be used to gradually reduce the total defense budget through 2016.

Veteran defense budget analyst Winslow Wheeler told The Washington Times that Pentagon figures were an incomplete account of total defense and national security spending because they excluded spending by other agencies, like the Departments of Energy Homeland Security, State and Veteran’s Affairs; and the Defense Department’s share of the interest on the national debt.

Altogether, he said, the total was close to a trillion dollars.

Nonetheless, some scholars were of the opinion that the figure was still too low, and called on the administration to allow the military to keep all the $178 billion it was planning to save through efficiencies and program cuts.

The budget plans to kill the new Marine vehicle and cut the end strength of the Corps and the Army “with our country at war and facing future challenges from China and other potential adversaries, make little strategic sense,” said a statement from Defending Defense — an umbrella for three conservative-leaning think tanks in Washington.

“Defense is simply too important to be left to budgetary shell games,” the American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, and Foreign Policy Initiative concluded.

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