by Rebecca Griffin
Next week, the president will present his 2015 budget to Congress (about a month later than usual). With elections coming up, there will be a brief window of time for Congress to weigh in.
While we don’t have all the details yet, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel previewed the budget on Monday. The major thing it revealed was something you probably could have guessed anyway: it’s too big.
The Pentagon finally reconciles with the reality of congressional spending caps, but only for one year. Even then, it throws in a wish list to give Congress ideas about upping the Pentagon budget this year:
The US Defense Department on March 4 will propose a five-year plan that boosts Pentagon spending by a total of $115 billion over sequestration spending caps, according to multiple sources who have been briefed on the plan.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday will preview the plan, along with other key items included in DoD’s $496 billion 2015 budget proposal. The budget proposal ignores federally mandated spending caps between 2016 and 2019. Defense News has reported that the fiscal 2016 budget projection would be $36 billion over the sequester cap.
While DoD’s fiscal 2015 budget falls in line with defense spending caps for that year, the budget will include a separate $26 billion “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative.” The additional $26 billion would go toward readiness, the sources said.
Sara Sorcher at National Journal offers 5 things to know about next year’s Pentagon budget. They’re all useful to look at, but one in particular is a major issue that Peace Action West will be keeping an eye on and reaching out to you to take action on:
4. The wartime budget may turn into a slush fund.
The Pentagon’s overseas contingency operations account, which has been tacked onto the budget for years to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, could serve as a budget gimmick.
It’s supposed to be emergency war spending. But the OCO—which is not subject to the budget caps—may encompass other priorities that should, theoretically, be in the Pentagon’s base budget.
This happened in fiscal 2014, when the cost per troop in Afghanistan skyrocketed to over $2 million from a remarkably stable $1.3 million in previous years, according to Todd Harrison at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The Pentagon apparently added at least $20 billion—and Congress another $10 billion—to the fiscal 2014OCO account, for things not directly related to war, like depot maintenance for major weapons systems, and pay and benefits for service members not necessarily contingent on deployments.
The fiscal 2014 war funding request was $79 billion, for some 38,000 troops in Afghanistan. “If we see the troop level drop to about 10,000 in 2015, we should see a significant reduction in the budget—by almost a quarter,” Harrison said. If the cost per deployed troop is higher—even as the size of the U.S. force is lower, and the scope of military operations smaller—that’s a “good indicator we’re adding costs in there that don’t belong there.”