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What Military Austerity? A Shift in Spending, Not Reduction

No Real Decrease in Pentagon Budget

- Common Dreams staff

The Pentagon released its latest budget request outline on Thursday in what was proposed as a paring down of defense spending; however, as many are now examining, the proposal aims to make cuts in certain areas, but it would actually increase baseline spending over a 10-year period. The proposal would expand the budget for technology and major weapons systems as well as for an increase in presence in Asia.

Peter Hart writes for FAIR:

By the tone of some of the media coverage, you might have thought Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a plan to slash military spending yesterday.  On the front page of USA Today (1/27/12), under the headline "Panetta Backs Far Leaner Military," readers learn in the first paragraph:

"The Pentagon's new plan to cut Defense spending means a reduction of 100,000 troops, the retiring of ships and planes and closing of bases--moves that the Defense secretary said would not compromise security."

The piece quotes critics of the cuts like Sen. Joe Lieberman and an analyst at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. And the article talks about the most commonly cited figure of $487 billion in cuts over 10 years. As economist Dean Baker writes about such coverage--"Military Budget Cuts: Denominator Please"--there is no way people can assess the significance of what sounds like a lot of money if they don't know how much the Pentagon is planning to spend over the same 1o-year period--roughly $8 trillion.

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Nancy A. Youssef at McClatchy elaborates:

Pentagon officials unveiled the outlines Thursday of what they called a pared-down defense budget, but their request increases baseline spending beyond the projected end of the Afghan war, even as they plan to reduce ground forces.

At the same time, the department proposed increasing spending on technology and major weapons systems, after a strategic announcement earlier this month in which defense officials said they must be ready for all kinds of warfare and proposed greater use of unmanned aircraft and a more agile ground force.

Arguing that the United States needs to be prepared for myriad potential threats despite ending the war in Iraq — and with congressional opposition to military spending cuts likely to be as stiff as ever despite the uncertain federal fiscal picture — the Pentagon's request calls for an increase in its base budget by $36 billion over the next five years. And its planned reduction in ground forces by 2017 would still leave a larger military than before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Pentagon's proposal over five years is an 8 percent decrease in the spending levels the Obama administration proposed last year, a total cut of $259 billion over five years. But the figures also represent an average of 2 percent growth each year over five years, employing a definition of the term "reduction" that may be popular in Washington but is unconventional anywhere else. […]

At the same time, the department proposed increasing spending on technology and major weapons systems, after a strategic announcement earlier this month in which defense officials said they must be ready for all kinds of warfare and proposed greater use of unmanned aircraft and a more agile ground force.

It wants to raise spending on drones by 30 percent, delay spending on the costly and controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and fund a new bomber and a sea-based vessel that would allow drones and helicopters to take off from international waters. It wants to maintain current spending levels on missile defense and nuclear weapons while increasing spending on cybersecurity. [...]

Announcing the results of a strategic review last month, the Defense Department said it would increase its focus on Asia. Its budget proposal reflects that, with spending for an 11th aircraft carrier and weapons system that could respond to China's growing military strength.

The department said it planned to cut two brigades from Europe and, according to Panetta, commit more troops to Asia, but he didn't offer specifics Thursday. [...]

The Obama administration is expected to announce its full 2013 budget proposal in early February.

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The Institute of Public Accuracy reports:

Project on Defense Alternatives, which just released a chart titled “Panetta Releases DoD ‘Austerity’ Budget; Pentagon Retains Most of post-1998 Increase” showing the Pentagon base budget, particularly highlighting that Panetta’s proposal would keep the budget almost level, while sequestration, under the Budget Control Act, would mean a cut in the real budget, but still keep it above Cold War levels.

The group states: “The future-years Pentagon base budget plan released by Secretary Panetta foresees rolling spending back to the level of 2008, corrected for inflation. Spending on the non-war part of the budget during the next five years (2013-2017) will be about 4 percent lower than during the past five (2008-2012) in real terms. The real (that is, ‘inflation corrected’) change from 2012 will be a reduction of 3.2 percent. […]

 “The new budget plan — represented by the green trend line — stands in stark contrast to the reductions mandated by the Budget Control Act under the provisions for sequestration (represented by the red trend line). Sequestration would roll Pentagon base-budget spending back to the level of 2004, which would still be 31 percent above the 1998 level (corrected for inflation). The new budget plan and sequestration do have one thing in common: both would keep Pentagon spending above the inflation-adjusted average for the Cold War years (represented by the horizontal dash line).”

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The Center for Economic and Policy Research writes:

It is unlikely that many readers would the ability to assess the significance of cuts of this magnitude since few know how much the country is expected to spend on the military over this period. The baseline projections show that the government will spend roughly $8 trillion on the military over the decade. This means that the cuts proposed by the Obama administration come to a bit more than 6 percent of projected spending over this period. Six hundred billion in cuts would amount to roughly 7.5 percent of projected spending. It is worth noting that even under the larger package of cuts, we would still be spending a larger share of GDP on the military than we did in 2000.

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