The Pentagon’s $71 Billion Fiscal Cliff

The Pentagon’s $71 Billion Fiscal Cliff

DoD photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air Force via Wikimedia Commons

Late last month, President Trump signed into law a $670 billion defense spending bill for fiscal 2019. Now, Travis J. Tritten writes in the Washington Examiner, the fight over the next such bill is already ramping up: “The Pentagon and lawmakers are now facing the imminent return of the same thorny budget issues that have snarled on-time funding and hobbled the Pentagon for years, as well as a wild card with the November midterms and a ballooning deficit.”

Under Trump, Congress agreed to lift spending caps in order to boost both defense and non-defense spending for two years. But the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 remain in place for 2020 and 2021, meaning that the military faces a $71 billion drop in funding at a time when military leaders like Defense Secretary James Mattis and their allies in Congress are looking to put more money toward the implementation of a new National Defense Strategy.

“Mattis and the Pentagon have indicated the military will need about 3-5 percent budget growth over the coming years to stay competitive against adversaries such as Russia and China, which the new strategy puts at the top of U.S. national security priorities,” Tritten writes.

The outcome of the looming defense budget battle may depend on November’s midterm election — and the deteriorating deficit outlook. If Democrats win control of the House, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) would likely become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “Smith believes the growing U.S. debt is making large Pentagon budgets untenable,” Tritten writes. “Smith has made clear in recent weeks that his vision as Armed Services chairman would be a scaled-back military role in the world, fewer nuclear weapons, and a hard look at shaving defense spending.”