February 27, 2009
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
By all reports, when President Obama's budget is released today,
it will envision spending more money on defense. The figure thrown
around most is an 8 percent increase over last year. But that
doesn't necessarily mean more money to support our men and women in
uniform -- and there's good reason to fear otherwise.
The problem is, we won't know the truth until the administration
reveals its plans for "supplemental" funding.
When something happens "out of cycle," like a war - which is not
in any department's budget -- Congress pays for it by approving
supplemental spending. It's been doing just that ever since
It made sense. Especially in the early going, it was hard to
predict year-to-year what might be needed for operations in
Afghanistan -- and Iraq only added to the problem.
So, for the last eight years, you had to add the regular and
supplemental defense appropriations together to figure out total
After a while, however, supplemental spending just became a
"Christmas tree" for busting the budget. Plus, we can predict now
pretty much what is needed each year for fighting the War on Terror
overseas. So it would make a lot of sense now to kill the defense
supplemental and give the Pentagon one budget -- ending the
Washington shell game of doling out dollars right and left.
But, if the White House kills the supplemental outright, that
means it will actually be spending about $70 billion less for
defense next year.
A big defense cut is a big problem. Unlike previous wars, the US
military never mobilized for this one. During the Cold War, the
Navy had 567 ships; today it has 283. The Air Force has about half
as many wings. On 9/11, the Army had 10 divisions -- down from
The terror war started with a smaller peacetime force and it was
fought on a peacetime budget, so there is no "peace dividend" to be
Anyway, a "peace dividend" presumes a peace - and,
while Iraq may be calming down, the president intends to boost our
commitment in Afghanistan.
Adding to the problem is that defense was underfunded before
9/11. Indeed, the Pentagon's been on a two-decade post-Cold War
"buying holiday" -- buying far less new equipment than was the norm
up through 1989.
Now the military equipment we do have is getting pretty worn out
- the average Air Force bomber is 32 years old. And trucks and
helicopters are wearing out five times faster than expected,
because the Army has been very busy.
In his speech Tuesday night, the president told the nation: "To
relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of
our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those
who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the
expanded health care and benefits that they have earned."
Pointedly, he did not promise new and better
It's great that Obama means to spend more on paying and taking
care of our troops -- but that was already the most expensive part
of military spending. If he's also shaving billions off the defense
budget, he'll be leaving these new members of the armed forces with
some pretty shabby stuff.
It gets worse. The president also promised to cut military
systems and curtail contracting. It takes about 20 years to procure
a new weapons system: If the White House scraps what's in the
pipeline now, odds are all those soldiers and Marines recruited in
the next few years will be retired before they see their new
FDR, to whom the president is often compared, faced similar
challenges. During his first two terms, he faced mounting fiscal
challenges and the constitutional requirement "to provide for the
common defense." He cut defense to the bone - until world war
FDR, however, had a saying. "I never let my right hand know what
my left hand is doing." Obama has said he won't do that - that
he'll be straight with us. If so, he needs to put all the cards on
When it comes to defense, the test of the president's promise
won't be the budget he releases today. We won't know if he plans to
shortchange defense until he puts all the numbers for next
year's spending plans on the table.
Carafano is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation
and the author of GI Ingenuity: Improvisation, Technology and
Winning World War II.
First Appeared in the New York Post
By all reports, when President Obama's budget is released today, it will envision spending more money on defense. The figure thrown around most is an 8 percent increase over last year. But that doesn't necessarily mean more money to support our men and women in uniform - and there's good reason to fear otherwise.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and Director
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