The Pentagon on Monday announced the president’s budget request for defense at $716 billion. That number is in line with the recent budget agreement.
Nonetheless, the effect of both of these strategies on the defense budget is still to be determined, since they were released very soon after the budget itself, and the Pentagon has fairly long budget cycles.
The national defense strategy calls for a defense budget that is sustained, predictable, and increased. The budget needs to advance all three pillars together. But Congress will have a determining role in that discussion; after all, it will appropriate the actual funds.
The Heritage Foundation has already released suggestions for the areas where it thinks Congress can act to help the Department of Defense operate better.
1. The Top Line
The top-line request for President Donald Trump’s base budget of $647 billion represents a great step toward rebuilding our military. The other $69 billion would come through war funding that is exempt from the budgetary caps.
That level of investment shows that there is strong commitment from the White House for the rebuilding of our military. It also aligns the defense budget expectations of both Congress and the executive branch.
It builds off the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which raised the Budget Control Act of 2011’s budget caps for both defense and nondefense spending.
Despite advancing a stronger national defense, the deal itself is marred with problematic provisions and will considerably increase our debt and deficit.
The government needs to budget and allocate resources in a fiscally responsible manner, as The Heritage Foundation has done through its “Blueprint for Balance.” Without a strong economic foundation, our military strength will erode like sand slipping through one’s fingers.
The problem on the top line is that we will return to the same discussion in 2019, because the defense caps are still in place for 2020 and 2021. Hopefully, before then Congress will be able to both reform the Budget Control Act caps and move away from deficit spending.
2. Troop-Level Increases
The president’s budget request calls for an increase of 16,900 troops over the congressionally authorized troop level.
The Heritage Foundation recommended a more robust increase of 25,600 troops over the level authorized by Congress for the coming fiscal year.
That is a substantial increase that will enable the department to have more available personnel so these troops can actually increase the projected strength of our military.
3. Pentagon Reform and Base Realignment and Closures
The president’s budget did not include a request for a new round of base realignment and closures, even though it is part of the national defense strategy.
Hopefully, the Pentagon will take this year without a new request for base closures to rework and reform its proposals for the process.
Reforms and initiatives like base realignment and closures serve to re-emphasize the importance of making sure that the Department of Defense is being a good steward of the taxpayer’s resources and that the country is getting the most it can from every defense dollar.
All in all, the Trump defense budget moves our necessary military rebuilding forward. But the military did not reach this state in one or two years, and it will take more than that to actually rebuild our military.
As the request moves to Congress, it will be up to lawmakers to consolidate these proposals and build on it in areas where the Department of Defense was lacking.
Frederico Bartels is a policy analyst for defense budgeting at The Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy. Twitter: @FredericoBF.
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