Pentagon Sitting Pretty with Obama Budget

Pentagon Sitting Pretty with Obama Budget

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Left and right critics agree: if you’re looking for a winner in the Obama budget, try the Pentagon.

One long-time military budget observer at a conservative think tank is characterizing the 10-year, $5.6 trillion spending plan as “more continuity than change.” Pentagon critics on the left are pointing out that the proposed baseline budget for the military would maintain spending at levels that trail only the height of the Cold War under President Ronald Reagan and the height of the war on terror under President George W. Bush.

Rather than the $487 billion in defense cuts that the administration is advertising, which is based on hoped-for levels of spending, the actual cuts are closer to $200 to $250 billion over ten years when measured in inflation-adjusted dollars. “The implication is future spending levels that are less than 4 percent lower than recent ones,” said Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives. The group has repeatedly pointed out that postwar build-downs since World War
II have typically averaged around 30 percent.

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“What is more interesting in this budget request are the major changes that were not made – the dogs that didn’t bark – and the open questions that remain for many of the proposals it includes,” wrote Todd Harrison of the hawkish Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (no nanny state liberals there) in a backgrounder released Monday.

Here’s the non-changes that could have been thrown on the table had the Obama administration wanted to make cuts that would help meet the sequestration goals that come into play next January:

• The budget maintains 11 aircraft carriers, the same as now, which requires building at least one new replacement carrier – the most expensive ship in the fleet.
• It maintains the nuclear triad (long-range bombers, nuclear-armed submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles), which will require continued development of a replacement long-range strategic bomber to replace aging B-52s; and
• It includes no money for base closures, which costs money up front, even though the budget shrinks the size of the army and marines.

The budget is mysterious where it isn’t generous. It calls for retiring 36 recently procured C-27Js, a smaller version of the aging C-130s that carry high volumes of troops and equipment into war zones from far away (both are like jumbo jets; they require very long and modern air strips). It is also retiring 18 new Global Hawk Block surveillance aircraft – the unmanned spy planes that provided intelligence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and were supposed to replace all the manned U-2s.

“Air Force leaders have repeatedly lamented that the service now has the oldest inventory of aircraft in its history,” Harrison said. “What factors led the Air Force to propose retiring some of the newest aircraft in its inventory?”

spent 25 years as a foreign correspondent, economics writer and investigative business reporter for the Chicago Tribune and other publications. He is the author of the 2004 book, The $800 Million Pill: The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs.