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The Fine Print on Defense Spending

Introduction: "Tough Choices"

On the campaign trail, President Barack Obama made repeated vows to overhaul the Pentagon budget process (PDF). And despite inheriting a defense establishment embroiled in two wars and still fielding major weapons systems developed decades ago to fight the Soviet Union, most analysts expect the new administration to make good on that promise. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking on Capitol Hill in January 2009, told lawmakers "tough choices" lay ahead for military spending. Growing competition for domestic dollars, Gates said, means "the spigot of defense funding opened by 9/11 is closing" (PDF). But as budget analysts await the Obama administration's first detailed defense spending request (an overview was released February 26), some feel the projected cuts may be made at a slower pace than once predicted. In fact, defense analyst James McAleese says preexisting plans approved by Congress to add thousands of troops to both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, coupled with ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, suggests a "high probability" the new administration will push through a "significant increase in [the] 2010 DoD budget" (PDF) before pursuing cuts down the road.

Near-Term Spike

As Washington refocuses its attention from fighting in Iraq to stabilizing Afghanistan, military budget experts expect overall warfighting costs will decrease over time. But baseline spending--money used to pay for standard Pentagon operations--is almost certain to go up in the near term. As costs associated with repairing the force after seven years of war remain high, many analysts say baseline dollars will increase slightly in FY2010 to keep pace. In January 2009, Congressional Quarterly reported that the Obama administration would cap its upcoming budget request at $527 billion, which, excluding war costs for Iraq and Afghanistan, would represent...

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