Trump’s military budget proposal is far above cap set by Obama and Congress

Spencer Ackerman in New York
US soldiers carry out a drill at a military training field in Paju, South Korea, on 7 March 2017. Photograph: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump proposes to swell the Pentagon’s coffers by $52bn. For the powerful congressional Republicans who will actually determine the size of the defense budget, it’s nowhere near enough.

One of the only departments to escape cuts in Trump’s budget proposal, submitted formally to Congress on Thursday, the defense department has long been telegraphed by Trump as a recipient of a windfall.

Trump’s proposals request $639bn for defense, comprising $65bn in war funding atop $574bn in the so-called “base” Pentagon funding, up from $587bn in Barack Obama’s final defense budget request.

The base budget funds the major expenses within US military spending, such as troop pay and healthcare; maintaining the military’s hardware; and purchasing the ships and planes about which Trump has waxed enthusiastic. Actual warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and beyond is funded separately, an accounting trick that has made US defense spending, by far the highest in the world, appear lower than it is.

Trump’s military budget proposal is well above the “sequestration” caps imposed under a much-lamented 2011 agreement between Barack Obama and the Republican Congress, but it came immediately under attack on Capitol Hill from defense hawks, not defense doves.

“It is clear that this budget proposed today cannot pass the Senate,” said John McCain, the Arizona Republican chairman of the Senate armed services committee.

McCain’s counterpart in the House, Republican Mac Thornberry of Texas, sounded similar notes, though softer in tone than McCain, a frequent critic of Trump.

“Unfortunately, the administration’s budget request is not enough to repair that damage and to rebuild the military as the president has discussed,” Thornberry said on Thursday.

McCain and Thornberry run committees that, along with the defense appropriations subcommittees, review, revise and shepherd through Congress the annual defense budget and shape its specific details.

Their early and vocal opposition to Trump’s proposal signals that it is unlikely to be adopted by Congress in its current form.

The Republican chairmen, who are both close to the defense secretary, James Mattis, are pushing for a vastly larger defense budget. Arguing that Trump’s proposal insufficiently redresses claimed shortfalls in readiness – McCain’s math claims Trump is proposing a 3% real increase from Obama, not the 10% the White House claims – they are pushing a $640bn defense budget for the coming year and similarly substantial increases in future years.

Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the UN, responded to Trump’s budget proposal by saying “more than military spending” was needed to combat terrorism.

“There is also a need to address the underlying drivers of terrorism through continuing investments in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, countering violent extremism, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, sustainable and inclusive development, the enhancement and respect of human rights, and timely responses to humanitarian crises,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Though it receives an outsized portion of non-entitlement spending, the Pentagon has for decades been unable to pass an audit, causing countless budget watchers to warn of military waste. One recent internal study documented $125bn, over a five-year period, in administrative waste alone.

Trump is also requesting a $2.8bn increase to the Department of Homeland Security’s budget, to $44bn, and $4.4bn more to the Department of Veterans Affairs, to $79bn.

In addition to the defense budget proposal, Trump on Thursday announced his selections for senior positions at the Pentagon supporting Mattis, which had been tied up in infighting between the Pentagon and White House.

Pending Senate approval, Boeing’s vice-president, Patrick Shanahan, will be Mattis’s deputy, responsible for the Pentagon’s day-to-day operations. Trump made a high-profile visit to a South Carolina Boeing plant last month, threatened the company over the cost of manufacturing Air Force One and has praised Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet as an alternative to the expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

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