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Obama, Gates Agree on Defense Budget Increase

Remember earlier this month, when the White House’s Office of Management and Budget told the Pentagon to cap its forthcoming fiscal 2010 budget at $527 billion, excluding the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — an increase from the $513 billion appropriated in the final year of the Bush administration? But because the figure was lower than a $584 billion Bush-era Pentagon wishlist for fiscal 2010, people started portraying the increase as a cut? Well, Josh Rogin at Congressional Quarterly reports (behind a firewall, alas) that OMB and the Pentagon have agreed to an even greater increase: $537 billion for the coming fiscal year.

The new topline figure is $10 billion greater than guidance President Obama’s administration gave to the Pentagon only last month. The increase reflects the effort to incorporate some items previously found in supplemental war funding budgets, the sources said, but does not cover the cost of ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will still require additional funding above the base request next fiscal year.

A bunch of defense-budget experts observe to Rogin that the Obama administration doesn’t want to be accused of being soft on defense. But that would presume its adversaries are interested in intellectual honesty, which this budget debate has demonstrated to be a faulty premise. The Obama administration could jack its Pentagon budget request to $583,999,999,999.99 and you’d see a flurry of op-eds bemoaning a defense cut. What’s more, the stimulus package includes several billion dollars for facilities construction and maintenance on military bases, as Jason Sigger helpfully itemizes. But don’t expect, say, advocates of the F-22 fighter plane that isn’t used in Iraq or Afghanistan to stop their campaign to tie F-22 purchases to economic recovery. That’s just how these debates go.

In any event, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, is going to have a hard time persuading the administration to chop the defense budget, as he’s advocated.

Update: InsideDefense’s Jason Sherman reported the $537 billion figure on Friday, but since it was behind ID’s subscriber firewall, I didn’t see his piece. Apologies, though.

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