Trump Seeks $639 Billion for Defense Department, Up 10%

  • Budget for 2018 seeks to expand Army, boost ships, munitions
  • President also submits additional $30 billion for this year

Trump Proposes Historic Budget Cuts to Fund Defense

President Donald Trump is proposing a $639 billion Pentagon budget for fiscal 2018 that pledges to accelerate combat against Islamic State terrorists and replenish a U.S. military worn out by 15 years of war operations.

“The president’s 2018 budget ends the arbitrary depletion of our strength and security and begins to rebuild our U.S. armed forces,” the White House said in a budget outline released Thursday for the year that begins Oct. 1.

The boost to the Defense Department would come at the expense of discretionary spending for most other government agencies, a trade-off already meeting resistance from Democrats in Congress. Under Trump’s request, the Pentagon would receive $574 billion for its regular budget, an increase of 10 percent increase, or $52.3 billion, over fiscal 2016, the last time Congress enacted a full-year budget. Separately, the Pentagon would get $65 billion in war-fighting funds, a $6.4 billion boost from the 2016 level.

Complicating the political future for Trump’s budget request is its pairing with a proposal to increase defense by $30 billion in fiscal 2017, the current year. For that, the White House is proposing about $18 billion in offsetting cuts to domestic programs, reductions unpalatable for Senate Democrats who have the ability to block it.

The U.S. government is financed under a stopgap funding measure through April 28 because Congress hasn’t approved any of the 2017 spending bills. That means some of the spending levels cited by the administration for comparisons are subject to change.

Budget Caps

Trump’s first defense budget request assumes that budget caps currently in law would be repealed. That, however, requires an act of Congress, and congressional Democrats already are dug in against any move that would decimate domestic programs.

At the same time, Republicans who support robust defense spending said Trump isn’t offering enough to rebuild the military.

“Such a budget does not represent a 10 percent increase as previously described by the White House, but amounts to a mere 3 percent over President Obama’s defense plan, which has left our military underfunded, undersized and unready to meet the threats of today and tomorrow,” John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said in an emailed statement. He said that he and Mac Thornberry of Texas, who heads the House Armed Services Committee, will push together for more.

While sparse on details, Trump’s proposed spending for fiscal 2018 would include funding for munition stocks, equipment maintenance and modernization, personnel increases and cyber warfare, according to the administration document.

“We are not throwing money after a problem and claiming we fixed it,” Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, told reporters in a budget briefing. He said the Defense Department gave assurances it can spend the added money “in a responsible fashion.”

The budget request is also a “down payment” on increasing the U.S. Navy fleet, the White House said. Trump pledged in his campaign to expand the Navy’s fleet to 350 vessels from about 272 today, which the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service estimates would cost an average of $4 billion a year for construction alone.

Navy Increase

The Navy set a goal of 305 ships under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. Ashton Carter, Obama’s defense secretary, warned about "irresponsibly" exceeding that goal at the risk of sacrificing quality for quantity. But in December, after the election, the Navy echoed Trump in a new assessment, saying it needed as many as 355 ships.

Trump also promised this month that he’ll provide the “12-carrier Navy we need.” There are 10 carriers in service today.

Additional surface ships and submarines would benefit the nation’s top warship makers -- Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. and the marine unit of General Dynamics Corp.

Also, increases in the Army and Marine Corps would benefit military vehicle builders General Dynamics and BAE Systems Plc, as well as Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co., makers of air defense and anti-armor systems such as Thaad, Patriot and the Javelin.

The budget outline also hints at an increase in Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which at an estimated $379 billion is the most expensive in the Pentagon’s history. Trump has begun championing the F-35 after initially criticizing its price tag and then taking credit for progress in Pentagon negotiations that were already under way to reduce its cost.

“Key investments in maintenance capacity, training systems and additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighters would enable the Air Force, which is now the smallest it has been in history, to counter the growing number of complex threats,” the White House said in its summary.

Budget Adjustment

Trump’s pledge to increase U.S. defense spending also includes a $30 billion supplemental addition to this year’s budget. The administration proposed to partly offset that spending through an $18 billion cut to nondefense spending.

While most of the funds would go toward the regular Defense Department budget, $5.1 billion would be added to the account dedicated to war-fighting, including the effort to defeat Islamic State. Using an acronym for the terrorist group, Trump said in a letter to Congress that the request would enable the Defense Department “to pursue a comprehensive strategy to end the threat ISIS poses to the United States.”

The budget adjustment would include $977 million for military personnel costs and $13.5 billion for the procurement of weapons systems including Boeing Co.’s Apache helicopters and Super Hornet fighter aircraft, Lockheed’s F-35s and Black Hawk helicopters from Lockkheed’s Sikorsky unit plus a  DDG-51 destroyer built by General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls.

The House last week approved a negotiated defense spending agreement for fiscal 2017. The measure, H.R. 1301, would provide $577.9 billion in discretionary spending, including $61.8 billion for overseas contingency operations funds not subject to budget caps. Appropriators are also counting $5.8 billion in supplemental spending already in the current stopgap spending legislation, for a total of $583.7 billion as money available for the fiscal year. 

The measure doesn’t include funding for military construction, which is handled by a different spending panel but is counted as part of the Pentagon budget.

The fiscal 2017 defense measure faces an uncertain fate in the Senate. With the stopgap funding running only through April 28, Democrats may see a strategic advantage in delaying action until Republicans show what they plan to do with the money needed to run other government agencies.

— With assistance by Anthony Capaccio, and Justin Sink

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