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“Modest reforms to pay and compensation will improve readiness and modernization. It will help keep our all-volunteer force sustainable and strong. Keeping faith also means investing sufficient resources so that we can uphold our sacred obligations to defend the nation and to send our sons and daughters to war with only the best training, leadership and equipment. We can’t shrink from our obligations to one another. The stakes are too high.”

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

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Stark foreign affairs and defense trade-off coming in '12

Being built around the Budget Control Act has made the Senate position on FY12 appropriations, released last week, a better indicator of what 2012 will look like than the narrower grandstanding that House appropriators passed earlier in the year.  Yet both are parameters, and the major difference between them is more about where the money goes rather than how much is spent.* Expect friction, even more than usual, on how to balance foreign affairs and defense.

The Senate position, a combination of already-passed appropriations and the top-lines released last week, hits the Budget Control Act cap at $684.1 billion.  The House’s $694.7billion top-line is about $10 billion off.  But on the specifics, the two chambers are within half a billion dollars of each other on four of the six distinct accounts: homeland security, military construction – veterans’ affairs, food aid, and NNSA. 

That leaves the Defense and State-Foreign Operations appropriations remaining.  Senate appropriators freeze defense at last year’s value, $513 billion, and find most of the $4 billion in savings required by the BCA from a $3.5 billion cut to State-Foreign Operations.  In contrast, the House partly financed a $17 billion defense increase on the back of a $9 billion hit to State-Foreign Operations.

Marginal changes to the other four accounts could relieve a bit of this friction but, for the most part, appropriators have created a direct trade-off in which every new dollar for defense will come from State and Foreign Operations.  The House isn’t likely to get the full $17 billion increase for defense, but neither is the Senate likely to keep State and Foreign Operations from paying a little bit more.  Congressional negotiators will not be able to escape the now-stark question: exactly how much are we willing to take from diplomacy and development in order to keep giving to defense? 

* Congress’ appropriations committees line up approximately, but not exactly, with the lines drawn by the BCA.  Most challenging is the homeland security appropriation.  Much of it goes to DHS, and much of DHS is funded by it, but neither is exclusive.  The BCA also includes all of International Affairs (function 150) within its security category, and the wider-flung elements of that diaspora are funded by numerous congressional appropriations subcommittees in addition to State-Foreign Operations.  Even with this surrounding tangle, though, the central tension is still clear.

Update: Our original post assumed the House’s SFOPs bill had a base amount of $32 billion.  The House’s revised 302(b) allocations showed war costs in the defense subcommittee’s allocation, so we presumed the $7.6 billion of war costs the House was providing the State department was built into the SFOPs allocation.  However, SFOPs has now released its report, and its clear the 302(b)s were making apple to orange comparisons.  The point of the original post still stands, but the trade-off is not as stark as we first thought.  The post is corrected to reflect this change.