Pentagon Resists Deficit Reduction
Rollback in Planned Budget Falls Far Short of Deficit Reduction Goals – Puts Fiscal Reform at Risk
PDA Briefing Memo 46, 26 January 2011
Bottom line: On 6 January 2010, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offered to roll back planned budgeting for the Pentagon by as much as $78 billion over five years (2012-2016) from the levels projected in 2010 by the Obama administration. By contrast, a broad spectrum of deficit-reduction plans (including the one by the President’s Fiscal Reform Commission) have sought defense cuts
for the same period in the range of $300 billion to $450 billion.
# Although described as a “cut,” Gates’ offer would allow defense spending to rise steadily over the next five years.
# Although Gates suggests that the more substantial defense savings plans promoted by the Sustainable Defense Task Force and others would court “catastrophe” and calamity, they all would allow the Pentagon to spend more in real terms during the next ten years than it did during the last ten.
# The proposals for substantial defense savings that Gates opposes would produce average Pentagon base budgets during the next ten years that are only about 5% below the high-tide Cold-War spending levels set during the Reagan administration, adjusted for inflation. But the Pentagon seeks future budgets that average more than 12% above the Cold War highs.
There are two sources of confusion regarding Gates’ offer and discussions of Pentagon budget cuts generally.
# First, the reference point or target of the “reductions” being discussed by deficit- reduction groups is future plans, not current budgets. So it is quite possible in some “reduction” plans for spending to actually rise from its current level. Indeed, as pointed out below, all the deficit-reduction proposals will provide the Pentagon with more inflation-adjusted dollars in the next decade than it had in the last. What distinguishes the Pentagon’s approach is that it is seeking much more – and it involves an immediate budget increase from 2011 to 2012.
# Second, quite apart from the President’s budget and DoD’s official budget submissions, the services maintain what might be called “aspirational budgets,” which are their claims of what they need to better or more easily perform their assigned missions. Seldom are all Pentagon requests fully validated and funded by civilian authorities. When military and defense officials talk about “reductions,” their reference point is sometimes their own aspirations – their “wish lists” – and not the budgets previously allotted or even planned by higher civilian authorities. Tallies of “unfunded requirements” or “unfunded priorities” serve as persistent and politically potent claims on more federal dollars.