The Pentagon unveiled its $534 billion dollar budget request on Monday, officially breaking the limit set in place by sequestration by approximately $36 billion dollars and causing military groups to ready for a fight on cuts to pay and benefits for troops.
Now that the budget cap of $499 billion has been violated, Congress faces two choices: kill the spending caps, or start making painful incisions into the proposed Pentagon budget. For the last two years, the executive branch has come to an agreement with Congress on budgetary figures which exceed sequestration, but a similar agreement is not at all forthcoming this time around, mostly because of a Republican-dominated Congress which will square off with Defense Secretary Ash Carter in hearings.
Although The Budget Control Act is still firmly in place, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the request is at “the manageable edge of risk.”
“As the budget makes clear, a return to sequester-level funding would be irresponsible and dangerous, resulting in a force too small and ill-equipped to respond to the full range of potential threats to the nation,” a statement from the Pentagon said.
The total amount allocated for service member pay and benefits currently stands at $178.9 billion dollars, a figure which is down overall by 2 percent. The pay raise is listed at only 1.3 percent, compared to the 2.3 percent rate expected in the private sector. By law, military raises are supposed to mirror increases in the private sector. Military families will also see the upfront rates in the Basic Allowance for Housing increase by 4 percent over the few years. Commissar subsidies will drop by $100 million, from $1.3 billion to $1.2 billion.
Retired Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of American stated that while he agrees sequestration is harmful and needs to end, the administration “just rehashes many of the same piecemeal proposals that Congress blunted or blocked last year. These proposals will further erode service members’ pay and benefits that are fundamental to sustaining the quality of the all-volunteer force.” The pay raises in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 were the lowest in 50 years.
On the other hand, the budget for the Pentagon’s civilian workforce is slated to increase by $600 million dollars, with a similar pay raise of 1.3 percent, but there will be deep cuts to the number of employees in the Pentagon to the tune of 4,170, as the war in Afghanistan winds down. Currently, the budget would allow for an active-duty force of 475,000 troops, although the Pentagon initially hoped for 490,000.
The budget allocates $177.5 billion for research spending, which represents a 13 percent jump from its past fiscal year 2015 amount. The Air Force will push forward with 57 F-35s, totaling $10.6 billion dollars of the budget, and the Pentagon signaled approval of the plan to remove the hardy A-10 “Warthog” close-air support aircraft from the lineup. The Navy will receive $11.6 billion for new ships, and $1.4 billion to develop a new nuclear missile submarine. War funding is at $51 billion, but represents the lowest amount since 2002.
But according to defense industry analysts, the budget is by no means locked in. Instead, once the budget is sent to Congress later this week, congressional committees will put it through the wringer until it barely resembles the original.
“I don’t think it’s likely DoD gets anything close to what they’re planning right now,” Todd Harrison from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments stated, according to Defense News.