Budget Day

February 14, 2011

Today sees both the announcement of the 2012 defense budget as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ attempt to lay down a line on what he wants – and what he doesn’t want – in the 2011 defense budget still being debated by Congress.  Given the depth of concern expressed by bipartisan political, military and national security leaders about the nation’s fiscal health – from current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen and past chair Colin Powell, to House Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA) and Minority Whip Hoyer (D-MD) – the 2012 budget leaves much room for further cuts.  On top of this, the GOP’s latest proposal for the 2011 Continuing Resolution leaves Defense almost untouched.  Experts from both sides of the aisle agree that if Congress is serious about reigning in spending, everything must be on the table, including defense spending.  But the Tea Party and establishment conservatives have yet to agree on a vision of U.S. security policy that matches up to sensible funding cuts, punting on the difficult decisions that the country is facing.

Double-barreled budget day:  2012 request released, Secretary Gates pushes on numbers for 2011 Continuing Resolution.  The White House today released its 2012 budget request, with an “inflation-adjusted freeze” for defense which nonetheless comes in as the largest defense budget ever. As Reuters reported this morning, “The White House proposed on Monday to spend $671 billion on the military next year, handing the Pentagon a short-term boost even as it prepares for tighter budgets in coming years. The Obama administration budget proposal for fiscal 2012 includes $118 billion for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, on top of the base budget of $553 billion. That base budget figure is $22 billion above the level enacted for 2010, setting a new record even as the rest of the government faces a freeze in federal spending. The budget would include $113 billion for procurement of weapons and services, down from about $120 billion projected a year ago, plus nearly $77 billion for research and development, roughly on par with the previous plan.”

As Bloomberg reported last week, “In the [2012] budget, due for release Feb. 14, will be 32 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 jets for the Air Force and Navy, software upgrades for its F-22 fighter and additional MC-130 transports for special operations, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss budget figures before the request is published. The budget also includes funding for two Virginia-class nuclear submarines made jointly by Northrop Grumman Corp. and General Dynamics Corp., four Littoral Combat Ships made by Lockheed and General Dynamics-led teams, and $1 billion in advance funding for the Northrop-built CVN-78 aircraft carrier, the officials said. The budget adds about $1.4 billion to buy more Boeing Co. Army AH-64 Apache helicopters, drones from other companies and more Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles made by Oshkosh Corp.”

At the same time, Secretary Gates will lay out what he wants – and what he doesn’t want – included in funding for 2011, which Congress has yet to finalize.  Because Congress did not pass the 2011 budget, the federal government is currently being funded through a Continuing Resolution, which expires on March 4.  Given this pressing deadline, “Gates will tell Congress the specific minimum level of funding he will need if the department is funded this year by a continuing resolution rather than the year-old budget request. Gates has called a continuation of funding at the current level ‘a crisis at my doorstep.’ So look for him to give a specific figure between the current funding level of $526 billion and his earlier $549 billion request,” according to Morning Defense.

[Reuters, 2/14/11. Bloomberg, 2/10/11. Morning Defense, 2/14/11]

Bipartisan military and national security leaders have challenged Congress and the White House to ask for more from DOD in the name of fiscal security. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen has said, “I think the biggest threat we have to our national security is our debt.” House Majority Leader Cantor and Minority Whip Hoyer have both said that defense ought to be “on the table.”  Yet the GOP’s latest proposal for 2011 funding “would leave the Pentagon largely untouched,” according to CQ; and members of Congress continue to push for funding of programs the Pentagon has asked to drop, such as the F-136 alternate engine and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. As USA Today profiles, “For five years running, two presidents have tried to eliminate funding for a backup engine on a fighter jet, a program Defense Secretary Robert Gates calls unnecessary. Congress, however, has rebuffed the White House and continues to fund the $465-million-a-year alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, amid intense lobbying by General Electric, the corporate giant working with Rolls-Royce to develop that engine.”  Nonetheless, military leaders and national security experts agree that fostering American power requires making smart cuts to the defense budget as part of across-the-board cuts to spending:

Colin Powell, former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “As we draw down from Iraq and as over the next several years as we draw down from Afghanistan, I see no reason why the military shouldn’t be looked at. When the Cold War ended 20 years ago, when I was chairman and Mr. Cheney was secretary of Defense, we cut the defense budget by 25 percent. And we reduced the force by 500,000 active duty soldiers, so it can be done. Now, how fast you can do it and what you have to cut out remains to be seen, but I don’t think the defense budget can be made, you know, sacrosanct and it can’t be touched.” [Colin Powell, 1/23/11]

Lawrence Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense. ”Obama should endorse further reductions in defense spending over the next five years. Obama could pursue a number of sensible reductions in other major acquisition programs in addition to the programs Gates targeted for budget cuts. For example, even Secretary Gates has questioned the rationale for maintaining 11 U.S. aircraft carriers, when ‘in terms of size and striking power, no other country has even one comparable ship.’” [Lawrence Korb, 1/21/11]

Gordon Adams, Distinguished Fellow, Stimson Center. ”Even with level or declining future budgets – now roughly $700 billion, the highest since 1947 – the U.S. military would be the only one in the world able to patrol the seas globally, carry out long-range air strike operations and deploy ground forces worldwide. Recognizing the unique security we enjoy, fiscal responsibility is needed now more than ever. Secretary Gates is leading an effort to shift $100 billion over five years from overhead to warfighting, but this will not be sufficient. Defense spending must actually fall.” [Gordon Adams, 12/23/10]

Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. ”[E]conomics has to be the main driver for current policy, as nations calculate power more in terms of GDP than military might. U.S. GDP will be the lure and the whip in the international affairs of the twenty-first century. U.S. interests abroad cannot be adequately protected or advanced without an economic reawakening at home.” [Leslie Gelb, Dec. 2010]

[CQ, 2/14/11. USA Today, 2/14/11. Adm. Mullen, 7/6/10]

Budget debate highlights civil war among conservatives. Julian Zelizer, a professor at Princeton University and expert on the politics of national security, explains, “Republicans are divided over what to do about the defense budget. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants to reduce it by $78 billion over the next five years… Some Republicans have acted reflexively, insisting on no cuts to the military budget. Howard McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and an establishment Republican, said: ‘I cannot say it strongly enough: I will not support any measures that stress our forces and jeopardize the lives of our men and women in uniform.’ Other Republicans have joined him. Sarah Palin has repeatedly stated that military spending should be off the table when it comes to deficit reduction… But some Republicans, primarily those associated with the Tea Party, have started to push back against their colleagues. Former House Majority Leader Richard Armey, who has worked closely with the leadership of the Tea Party Movement, told The New York Times, ‘A lot of people say if you cut defense, you’re demonstrating less than a full commitment to our nation’s security — and that’s baloney.’ House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have signaled they are willing to consider the Pentagon’s budget in discussions.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times writes that, “The discordant Republican voices on military spending have bred confusion on Capitol Hill, among military contractors and within the military itself, where no one is exactly sure what the members backed by the Tea Party will do. It also shows why taking on the military budget will be so hard, even though a widening deficit has led the president and the leaders of both parties to say this time they are serious. Most Tea Party candidates spoke little about national security and the military in fall political campaigns focused on cutting spending over all. ‘It’s a mystery to me,’ General [Peter] Chiarelli [vice chief of staff of the Army] said of the newcomers’ intention on the defense budget, but he said he was eager to sit down at the Pentagon for talks with the newcomers.” [Julian Zelizer, 2/1/10. NY Times, 1/26/11]

What We’re Reading

As Egypt’s new military leadership suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament and promised fresh elections, demands for similar political reform swept across the Arab world, from Libya to Iran.

An Amsterdam court said it would consider dismissing the hate crimes charges against anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders.

Fourth-quarter GDP data confirmed that China has surpassed Japan to become the world’s second largest economy.

A suicide bombing killed two people at an upscale Kabul hotel complex.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad dissolved his cabinet.

A suicide bomber killed 27 people in an attack on Shia pilgrims in Iraq.

Hundreds of Mexico City residents took to the streets to protest the surge in drug violence.

Colombian rebels released a fourth hostage, but declined to release two others.

NATO seized a suspected pirate mothership off the coast of Somalia.

Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the the Ivory Coast presidential election, has threatened to extend a ban on cocoa exports if incumbent Laurent Gbagbo does not resign.

Commentary of the Day

Joseph Nye argues that describing the future of world power as inevitable American decline is both misleading and dangerous if it encourages China to engage in adventurous policies or the U.S. to overreact out of fear.

Aaron David Miller warns against attempts to blame Washington for walking the political tightrope in Egypt; this was simply not America’s revolution.

Bruce Riedel says the real loser in the Egyptian revolution was al Qaeda’s ideology.

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