It’s been a long eight months since the administration requested a 4.5 percent increase for the Pentagon.* President Obama almost immediately changed the goal to limit military spending to the inflation rate for the foreseeable future. And the pressure only increased when the Budget Control Act (BCA) passed in August. Now the administration has officially endorsed a hard defense freeze in FY12 in order to meet the BCA’s security spending caps.
The [Senate] DOD funding level, a freeze, will sustain our strong military, while the difficult but manageable reductions in the Department of State and other international programs leave the resources to sustain critical U.S. engagement around the world. By contrast, an unbalanced approach will not serve America's national security or its vital interests around the world.
This is exactly how defense build-downs typically work. Though it may be easy to lose sight of the underlying trend between rumors of secret savings packages and debates about sequester, the fact remains that Pentagon resources are heading steadily down. Congress froze the FY11 defense appropriation almost exactly at its FY10 value. The BCA’s security cap made it difficult to increase military resources above inflation in FY12, and this newly-announced administration position makes that even less likely.
There should be no doubt that the build-down has begun. Today’s real question is exactly how much are we willing to take from diplomacy and development in order to delay deeper defense reductions?
*The Pentagon’s budget (subfunction 051) is almost, but not entirely, identical to Congress’ defense appropriation. The former includes Military Construction and Family Housing titles, but Congress appropriates funding for those in a separate bill.