Magazine article National Defense

Uncertainty Surrounds the Defense Budget

Magazine article National Defense

Uncertainty Surrounds the Defense Budget

Article excerpt

With just a few weeks remaining until the beginning of fiscal year 2018, topline spending on national defense is still up in the air.

President Donald Trump has proposed a $603 billion base defense budget for 2018, with another $65 billion for overseas contingency operations. The Budget Control Act would limit base defense spending to $549 billion in 2018. Trump's proposal would exceed the budget caps by $54 billion.

Lawmakers have proposed even higher funding levels.

"Although the exact figures vary, ... [key congressional committees] have all marked to a total national defense topline that is about $30 billion more than the Trump administration's PB 2018 request," Katherine Blakeley, a research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said in a recent policy paper.

Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said: "It's not clear if, when or by how much the BCA caps will be lifted. There's a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the FY 18 [outcome] because of this. Since the BCA went into effect we haven't seen such a big disparity between the caps, what the president has proposed and what Congress is proposing."

Analysts are doubtful that the caps - which extend through 2021 - will be permanently lifted anytime soon as part of a comprehensive budget agreement. "Outright repeal is complete fantasy," Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense budget analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said in an email.

Harrison sees greater prospects for a one-year budget deal that would boost overall defense spending through some combination of raising the budget cap levels, and injecting additional OCO money to help fund base budget needs.

Eaglen is pessimistic that any agreement to raise the BCA caps will be reached this year. She said it's more likely that Congress would have to rely entirely on additional OCO funding - which isn't subject to the budget caps - to boost Pentagon spending.

"This requires no amendment to the current law," she said. "If this is the route to more defense dollars, it will be significantly less than the committee marks . and even less than the president himself is seeking. …

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