Having heard overnight that President Trump has announced intentions to raise US defense spending by a whopping $54 billion, my view this morning relatively straight forward – ignore any ill-chosen words and phraseology used by the President to support the reasoning behind the intention and accept that, no matter what obstacles are put in the way by Congress, US defence spending will definitely be on the rise from 2019.
The proposed rise in the Pentagon taking this to $603 billion for FY19 comes as the United States has over the past three year wound down major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, closed bases and shed vast numbers of military personnel. But, with perceived and actual level of threats against the US and indeed, the alliance significantly raised in recent times, even though the US spends more on defense than the next three, four or five countries in the world combined, the perception is that US defense has been weakened too far.
Lacking meat on the bones meaning specific detail and being mindful that some of the words used last evening to describe the reasoning behind the need to raise defense spending appeared archaic, we need to be mindful that President Trump is after all only attempting to carry out a promise on which he was elected last November – that promise being to raise spending on defense.
Short of time this morning, I will make very little additional comment although I will attempt to fill you in on opposing views heard overnight and that will provide a useful reminder for us over here of what the White House can anticipate along the path of attempting to get the 2019 defence budget through over the next year to eighteen months. I understand by the way that the White House intends to submit full detail of its budget request in May.
The defense budget plan announced by President Trump came under immediate fire from Democratic lawmakers last evening who claimed that cuts required to pay for the additional military spending such as environmental protection, education, US diplomacy and foreign aid, would be unacceptable. No surprise there!
The White House has been at pains to remind Democrat Nancy Pelosi said the Trump plan to slash funding for federal agencies to free up money for the Pentagon showed that he was not putting American working families first. “A $54 billion cut” she said “will do far reaching and long lasting damage to our ability to meet the needs of the American people and win jobs for the future” adding that the president is surrendering America’s leadership in innovation, education, science and clean energy.
The White House budget official, who outlined the plan on a conference call last evening said the administration would propose “increasing defence by $54 billion or 10 percent.” That represents the magnitude of the increase over budget caps Congress put in place in 2011. Mick Mulvaney, White House budget director, said the plan would bring the Pentagon’s budget to $603 billion in total, just 3 percent more than the $584 billion that the agency spent in the most recent fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, 2016. The rise would be slightly higher than the country’s current 2.5 percent rate of inflation.
There were plenty of supporter of the plan. “President Trump intends to submit a defence budget that is a mere 3 percent above President (Barack) Obama’s defence budget, which has left our military underfunded, undersized, and unready to confront threats to our national security,” John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
The battle ahead will be tough but on this one, while the Trump plan will unlikely succeed in all its intentions I personally believe that in this case, the president will get most of his way.
The planned increase in defence spending would be balanced by slashing the same amount from non-defence spending, including a large reduction in foreign aid, the White House budget official said. The latter will be tough call and few are going to ignore that with total gross US federal government debt estimated to be $20.1 trillion by the end of this year, it is clear that no new funding will be acceptable without a plan for savings elsewhere unless, of course, taxation is allowed to rise.
President Trump does not have the final say on federal spending and his plan for an increase in defence spending is merely part of a budget proposal put to Congress and which, although controlled by fellow Republicans, will not automatically guarantee acceptance of his proposals. Worse is that budget negotiations are almost always protracted and getting a typical defence budget proposal through can take over a year.
Firing an early warning that he would not accept too much watering down of the proposals, Senator John McCain said later that he would not vote for a [defense] budget that contained [eventually] only a slight increase in military spending. Clearly there will be huge opposition to the Trump defense budget plan but for the most part this will be on how it is funded at the expense of other departments rather than any questioning as to why the US needs to spend more on defense. The battle in Senate will as always be interesting to observe.
Meanwhile President Trump told state governors at the White House that his budget plan included a “historic increase in defence spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America” and that his proposal was a “landmark event” that would send a message of “American strength, security and resolve” to other countries.
For the record, the US spends approximately one-sixth of the federal budget on military spending. Through the election campaign, President trump had said that if elected he wanted to the US Army to 540,000 active-duty troops from a current level of 480,000; increase the Marine Corps to 36 battalions from the current 23 – or as many as 10,000 additional Marines; boost the US Navy to 350 ships and submarines from a current 276 and raise the number of tactical aircraft in the US Air Force to 1,200 from a current level understood to be around 1,100. He has also said previously that he wanted to bolster development of missile defences and cyber capability.
Just last week President Trump told Reuters the United States had “fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity.” He pledged to ensure that “we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”
More on this in the coming weeks and months!
CHW (London – 28th February 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785