Republicans are touting extra money for defense as a party win in the omnibus funding bill set to be enacted by May 5. But while GOP leaders say the cash will be used to rebuild the military, the funding level would actually be more than twice the amount of defense funding before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The bill (H.R. 244) would provide defense funding totaling about $626 billion for the remainder of fiscal 2016, According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. That includes regular appropriations for the Pentagon’s day-to-day operations as well as funding for military construction, nuclear warhead programs in the Energy Department and overseas anti-terror military operations.
That’s up from the $610.3 billion level that defense funding stood at since a temporary funding bill enacted December 2016 (Pub. L. No. 114-254), and well above the $599.7 billion level set for fiscal 2016.
It’s also more than double the $295 billion level of defense outlays seen in fiscal 2000, the last full fiscal year before the Sept. 11 attacks.
While that figure doesn’t include any significant overseas military operations, the growth in recent years overseas operations funding had come even in the absence of overseas troop surges in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. Indeed, defense outlays topped $600 billion every year between 2008 and 2013, while those surges or troop redeployments were taking place.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the omnibus bill, by providing for a greater increase in defense funding than in non-defense funding, meant Congress was serious about rebuilding the military. Previously, President Obama had required any increase in Pentagon money be accompanied by a similar-sized increase in domestic, non-defense cash.
“This forced parity that we lived under under the Obama years really constrained our ability to rebuild our military for this century. This appropriations bill changes all of that,” Ryan said May 2.
“No longer are the needs of our military going to be held hostage for increases in domestic spending. This means that we can finally make real, important strides to increase and improve our readiness,” he said. “It means we can get our service members the tools and the resources they need to confront the threats that we face all around the world.”
Ryan said underfunding the Pentagon had meant pilots for some planes had to scrounge for extra parts from museums. “We got to a point where some of our planes are so outdated that whole fleets would qualify for antique license plates in Virginia,” he said.
Todd Harrison, senior fellow with the Center for Strategic & International Studies, said current military spending is comparable to what was seen in the Reagan years, but the size of the U.S. military was about one-third larger then compared to now, meaning the costs per servicemember are now much higher than they were then.
“Our labor costs are much higher,” Harrison said, pointing to years of steady troop pay increases as well as much higher benefits for housing, health care and retirement. Operating costs have also grown significantly, Harrison said, rising at more than three times than the rate of inflation.
Harrison said measuring the defense budget’s growth by inflation-adjusted dollars instead of nominal dollars was probably a more accurate way to gauge its growth. In 2014, the CBO said even after adjusting for inflation, core Pentagon spending was still up 31 percent between 2000 and 2014.
Some complaints about a loss in defense capability in some areas since 2000 were probably valid, Harrison said. But others, such as worry over military readiness, were less so because they were measured in terms of inputs instead of actual performance.
He compared readiness worries to having an old car with delayed maintenance. “The oil in my car needs to be changed, but I can still drive it,” he said.
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