Pentagon Seeks Record Level in
by Thom Shankar
www.nytimes.com/, February 3,
As Congress and the public focus on more
than $600 billion already approved in supplemental budgets to
pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for counterterrorism
operations, the Bush administration has with little notice reached
a landmark in military spending.
When the Pentagon on Monday unveils its
proposed 2009 budget of $515.4 billion, annual military spending,
when adjusted for inflation, will have reached its highest level
since World War II.
That new Defense Department budget proposal,
which is to pay for the standard operations of the Pentagon and
the military but does not include supplemental spending on the
war efforts or on nuclear weapons, is an increase in real terms
of about 5 percent over last year.
Since coming to office, the administration
has increased baseline military spending by 30 percent over all,
a figure sure to be noted in the coming budget battles as the
American economy seems headed downward and government social spending
is strained, especially by health-care costs.
Still, the nation's economy has grown
faster than the level of military spending, and even the current
huge Pentagon budgets for regular operations and the war efforts
consume a smaller portion of the nation's gross domestic product
than in previous conflicts.
About 14 percent of the national economy
was spent on the military during the Korean War, and about 9 percent
during the conflict in Vietnam. By comparison, when the base Pentagon
budget, nuclear weapons and supplemental war costs are combined,
they total just over 4 percent of the current economy, according
to budget experts. The base Pentagon spending alone is about 3.4
percent of gross domestic product.
"The Bush administration's 2009 defense
request follows the continuously ascending path of military outlays
the president embraced at the beginning of his tenure," said
Loren Thompson, a budget and procurement expert at the Lexington
Institute, a policy research center. "However, the 2009 request
may be the peak for defense spending."
Pentagon and military officials acknowledge
the considerable commitment of money that will be required for
continuing the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as efforts
to increase the size of the Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations
forces, to replace weapons worn out in the desert and to assure
"quality of life" for those in uniform so they will
remain in the military.
Yet, those demands for money do not even
include the price of efforts to refocus the military's attention
beyond the current wars to prepare for other challenges.
Senior Pentagon civilians and the top
generals and admirals do not deny the challenge of sustaining
military spending, and they acknowledge that Congress and the
American people may turn inward after Iraq.
"I believe that we need to have a
broad public discussion about what we should spend on defense,"
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and
Admiral Mullen have said military spending should not drop below
4 percent of the national economy. "I really do believe this
4 percent floor is important," Admiral Mullen said. "It's
really important, given the world we're living in, given the threats
that we see out there, the risks that are, in fact, global, not
just in the Middle East."
Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary,
said Mr. Gates and the senior Pentagon leadership were well aware
that the large, emergency spending bills for the war, over and
above the Pentagon base budget, will at some point come to an
"The secretary believes that whenever
we transition away from war supplementals, the Congress should
dedicate 4 percent of our G.D.P. to funding national security,"
Mr. Morrell said. "That is what he believes to be a reasonable
price to stay free and protect our interests around the world."
No weapons programs are canceled in the
new Pentagon budget, officials said; in fact, steadily increasing
base defense budgets and the large war-fighting supplemental spending
packages have made it easier for the Pentagon to avoid some tough
calls on where to trim.
"But I think it's doubtful the nation
will sustain this level of defense spending," said Steven
Kosiak, vice president for budget studies at the Center for Strategic
and Budgetary Assessments.
The 2009 military spending proposal will
be the 11th year of continuous increases in the base military
budget, he added. War-fighting supplement spending measures are
outside the base Pentagon budget, an issue that has angered some
in Congress. Pentagon officials have announced a proposal for
a $70 billion special war budget just to carry on operations from
Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year, into the early months
of the next presidency.
Another supplemental spending proposal
is expected before October, but after Gen. David H. Petraeus,
the senior commander in Iraq, reports to Congress on his recommendations
for troop levels through the end of 2008.
Any budget proposal is more than just
a list of personnel costs and weapons to be purchased, as it lays
out the building blocks of future military strategy. Democrats
vow to scrutinize the new budget, the last by this president.
Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island,
who visited Iraq again last month, said that expanding the ground
force as proposed in the new budget is an important step to relieve
pressure on the Army and Marine Corps - one he will support even
though he said it came too late.
Mr. Reed, a senior member of the Armed
Services Committee, said demands of the counter-insurgency wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan raise questions whether troops were receiving
sufficient training, and were instead surrendering skills across
a broader range of combat missions.
"It's going to require a re-balancing,"
he said. "It's going to require budget decisions that'll
be very difficult."