FPI Fact Sheet: Defense Budget Update

March 23, 2015

After heated committee debates, the House and Senate will each take up budget resolutions this week that would make minimal changes to the $1 trillion in defense cuts required by the Budget Control Act (BCA). A recent FPI fact sheet explained the key features of the defense budget proposal introduced in the House Budget Committee, as well as options proposed by President Obama, the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, and the bipartisan National Defense Panel. This update describes the amended resolutions that will be considered by the House and Senate this week, as well as a proposal from the House Republican Study Committee (RSC).

The budget resolutions that Congress will debate feature a total of $613 billion for defense spending, a marginal increase above the figure requested by President Obama. However, the resolutions reach this target by leaving the BCA cuts to the Defense Department’s base budget in place while providing an extra $39 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), an account normally restricted to paying for war-related costs.  This maneuver would require the support of both the appropriations committees and the Obama administration, which may not be forthcoming.

At a Thursday hearing, the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey suggested that OCO dollars are not an acceptable substitute for increased base budget funding, since they only provide a one-year fix. Gen. Dempsey stated, “We submit a one-year budget but in the context of a five-year future defense plan, and we won't have the certainty we need over that period” if sequestration-level caps still apply in FY16 and beyond.

Moreover, an FY16 budget of either $612 or $613 billion would result in significant shortfalls for our military. Gen. Dempsey has said that the President’s budget request would leave the Pentagon at the “lower, ragged edge” of manageable risk, while Secretary Carter has warned that there would be “no margin left for error, nor for a response to a strategic surprise.” This is why the RSC, the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, and the bipartisan, congressionally-appointed National Defense Panel have all recommended substantial increases in the defense budget.

The question before Congress is whether it will heed the advice of both military leaders and independent experts, or whether it will remain wedded to defense cuts signed into law before the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the dramatic spread of Iranian influence across the Middle East.

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