In Some Parallel Universe, Pentagon Makes Tough Budget Decisions
The Wall Street Journal files from that parallel universe today: Thanks to the financial crisis and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon must make some crucial spending decisions. Should money be spent preparing for counterinsurgency, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, or buying state-of-the art weapon systems to fight more a conventional war with the likes of a Russia or China?
Some, such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates, favor money for less conventional warfare. Others, such as Rep. Jack Murtha, (D-Penn.), chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, want cash for fancy weapons to fight future conflicts.
However interesting, this debate has little basis in reality. The Pentagon spends an incomprehensible sum of money on both current and “future” wars — and will continue doing so next year, thanks to a 7 percent increase in its budget. The $488-billion spending plan, which does not include money for Iraq and Afghanistan, was passed at the height of the financial crisis, which means that the Wall Street meltdown probably wasn’t a factor in lawmakers’ thinking.
Gates wasn’t much of a factor either, because spending on such programs as Future Combat Systems and F-22 fighters, which he has criticized, increased.
The Journal article liberally quotes from Gates and Murtha as if their competing priorities will force defense appropriators to make a choice somewhere down the road.
But that’s unlikely to happen in the next administration. Both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain wish to increase defense spending. The Pentagon, meanwhile, wants to add $450 billion over the next five years.
And Congress is least likely to go along with any tough spending choices. The defense bill it just passed shows that lawmakers depend on these pricey weapons programs for jobs in their districts.
Pentagon spending has more than doubled during the Bush administration. It’s not clear where the political will to reduce defense outlays will come from.