The President released the FY13 defense budget request today, and the total amount is $5B less than the FY12 appropriated levels. We are certainly into the defense builddown. But we should remember that the defense budget has cycled up and down over the last 60 years. This year’s request of $525.4B is just one step of that cycle, and not a terribly dramatic one at that, especially if Congress takes advantage of the opportunity the administration has given it to ease the cut.
Although this is the first request smaller than the budget the year before, the defense budget actually entered the builddown two years ago. Both FY12 and FY11 were held by Congress at roughly the same level as FY10, meaning the defense budget wasn’t keeping pace with inflation, and therefore was shrinking. The Defense Department’s release puts the FY12 topline at $530.5B, which is a half a percent increase over FY11. However, at that time, inflation was between 1.5 to 2 percent, so the .5 percent increase didn’t cover the lower value of each dollar. Seen in this context, the defense budget for FY13 is the gradual next step in a curve, as well as a step in line with the efforts Congress to address our fiscal crisis by constraining all discretionary spending with the Budget Control Act (BCA).