It's Time To Sharpen the Scissors
Breaking down the $739 billion defense budget.
The military budget that President Bush released today is much bigger than the official summaries let on. It's not $481.4 billion, as the Defense Department is claiming. No, a squint through the fine print of the White House and Pentagon budget documents reveals that the true request for new military-spending authority comes to $739 billion.
Measured in real terms (that is, adjusted for inflation), that's about one-third higher than the previous record for U.S. military spending, set in 1952, when more than 30,000 American soldiers were dying in the Korean War and the Pentagon was embarking on its massive Cold War rearmament drive.
Here's how the numbers crunch.
In the press release today, the Defense Department announced that it was requesting $481.4 billion from Congress for Fiscal Year 2008. However, it also asked for a supplemental of $141.7 billion to fight the "global war on terrorism" (which, in budget terms, means the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).
This latter request is an instance of the Pentagon's new post-Rumsfeld fiscal honesty. Supplemental budget requests usually come midyear, when officials realize that more money will be needed to pay for emergencies or, in this case, combat operations. The new defense secretary, Robert Gates, had said the supplemental should be submitted along with the regular budget, to the extent possible. A good idea, but the two sums should be added together—for a total of $623.1 billion.
However, let's look again at the initial $481.4 billion. That's just the portion of military spending controlled by the Defense Department. According to the Office of Management and Budget's financial summaries (see Page 89), there's also $17.3 billion in "defense articles" for the Department of Energy (mainly related to nuclear-weapons laboratories) and $5.2 billion for other agencies (mainly the Federal Bureau of Investigation)—or an additional $22.5 billion.
Quite apart from the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, that would put the baseline military budget not at $481.4 billion but rather at $503.9 billion. (The OMB's numbers for military "budget authority" are based on this measure.)
So, add the $141.7 billion supplemental to this number, and we get $645.6 billion.
There's one more add-on. The Pentagon is also asking $93.4 billion as a supplemental for war costs in the remainder of 2007. (The $50 billion supplemental that Rumsfeld requested last year for '07 turned out to fall a bit short.) Technically, this isn't part of the FY 2008 budget, but it is a new request for money.
Pile that on top, and we get $739 billion.
Of that amount, $235.1 billion is for the wars. (By the way, the total cost for these wars, with these two supplementals tacked on, now comes to $661.9 billion, and the Pentagon is asking for an additional $50 billion "allowance"—a term I've never seen in a budget document—for Fiscal Year 2009.) The new Congress will be inspecting this war cache carefully. But the other $503.9 billion of the FY 2008 budget is not for operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. Will anybody give it some scrutiny, too?
Here are some programs they could take a hard look at:
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.