The new defense budget: a total mess
By Winslow T. Wheeler
Global Beat Syndicate
WASHINGTON--The newest Bush-Rumsfeld defense budget now before congress is riddled with contradictions and duplicity--and by the time it gets through congress, the problems will only be worse.
For starters, the total defense and security budget to the Pentagon and various other agencies and departments is gigantic. The grand total, $667.2 billion, exceeds any annual sum we have ever paid for security in any war at any time. It is also larger than the total combined security budgets for all the other countries in the world put together.
Yet, unbelievably, this amount is thoroughly inadequate.
Here is how the grand total breaks down: at just over $421 billion, the Pentagon's budget--in real terms--is the largest since the Cold War ended in 1991. By adding the $85 billion the Congressional Budget Office expects to pay for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006, it is the highest defense budget since 1952. Adding in the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons programs and other defense costs raised the total another $20.7 billion, outdoing any defense budget since World War II. Next, we must add $40.4 billion for homeland security, plus $31.7 billion for foreign policy and international stability. The human consequences all our wars and security measures require funding of $68.3 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
For years, the CBO has been comparing the Pentagon's budget to the actual cost of various programs. The CBO's September 2004 study shows a $250 billion shortage in the Pentagon's plans for 2005-2009. Defense advocates call this "underfunding." Others, who recognize the pricey menagerie of Cold War weapons the Pentagon still craves, call this "over-programming."
In response, Secretary Rumsfeld has timidly scheduled $30 billion in program cuts over six years, but as he knows, most cuts will not happen due to opposition from the Pentagon's bureaucrats-in-uniform and pork-crazed members of Congress, neither of whom Rumsfeld will seriously resist.
Perhaps the largest publicly declared inadequacy is for the unsatisfied appetite in Congress for benefits to the servicemen and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, their families, and especially for veterans of previous wars.
The desire felt by many politicians to increase compensation for personnel actually fighting today, and their families, is coupled with veterans' community demands for gigantic increases in health care, retirement and survivors' benefits.
The combined effects of a ongoing wars and extremes in political partisanship in Washington have whipped the political parties into a frenzy, with each trying to outdo the other to accede to warriors' needs and veterans' demands. Anyone daring to point out the gargantuan costs, or that we already face major financial problems in Social Security and Medicare, or who mentions the effects on other forms of defense spending, is shouted down as an ingrate.
The way Mr. Rumsfeld has chosen to pay for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that he is not trying to control any of these budget forces, but rather to exploit and exacerbate them: his requests for war funding are routinely late (which helps to wring compliance out of congress), and inadequate (which keeps the appearance of the expenses at a barely acceptable level).
Despite sunk costs that exceed the most pessimistic of original estimates, inadequacies abound. We know about the inattention to armor for Humvees and soldiers, but shortages in maintenance for worn-out equipment, and in radios, machine guns, carbines, ammunition, and much else await discovery by a somnambulating Congress.
In recent days, Mr. Rumsfeld has submitted a new supplemental request to pay for the war for the current fiscal year; it, too, is inadequate to the shortages he should urgently be addressing. This new supplemental will, however, help Rumsfeld's budget cosmetics, earmarking several billions to reorganize the Army into smaller brigades and to add over 30,000 troops approved by Congress last year.
Such expenses clearly belong in the regular budget, but that would give lie to the image of a defense budget growing only modestly in the face of domestic program cuts. Moreover, by dubbing it "emergency," the added funds will not count under budget rules when calculating whether the federal government heeds, or fails to heed, spending ceilings for appropriations.
If past is prologue, Congress will go along with all this while raiding other Pentagon operating accounts--such as those that pay for training and spare parts--to support more pork barrel spending in members' home states and districts.
When it is all done, President Bush will praise Congress for its handiwork, and Secretary Rumsfeld will start new plans that run away from budget realities in his next budget. If the public only knew....