The debate over the defense budget has been underway now for six months. The Republican majority in Congress has passed budget resolutions, is working hard on defense authorizing bills (already through the House), and has pushed the defense appropriations bill through the House. Meanwhile, the Senate defense appropriations bill is out of committee and heading for the floor. That’s fast work compared to the slothful congressional pace on budgets over the past 15 years. Moreover, every one of these pieces of legislation assumes that the defense budget, including the war budget, will grow by at least $38 billion over this year’s level. Even President Barack Obama’s administration believes that, having submitted a budget that was $38 billion higher than the caps imposed in the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Which means that everyone involved is playing a game of “make-believe.” The defense budget will not grow by $38 billion. It may not even grow at all, but if it does, it will surely be by a lot less than $38 billion. And that will pose a problem for congressional appropriators, who have stuffed the bill with all kinds of goodies like extra aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and National Guard equipment the Defense Department did not ask for. It poses problems for the Pentagon as well, where military services have built long-term force and weapons plans around the assumption that their budget beliefs, enshrined in the president’s budget, are reality.
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