Are senior officials at the Pentagon construing Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ budget as a proposed defense spending cut?
Earlier today, I noted that the ranking member on that committee, John McHugh, had told Reuters that the Gates proposal would amount to an $8 billion slash in spending. But the numbers tell a different story: Not counting supplementals, Congress last year appropriated $513 billion to the Pentagon. This year, Gates is asking for $534 billion. If he gets everything he asks for, that’s an increase of $21 billion, and Congress could always increase the total beyond that.
I asked McHugh’s staff where the notion of an overall spending cut came from, and, when pressed, they had a hard time standing by the idea of a decrease in total dollars.“In terms of total dollars, you’re right,” said an aide. “But there will be $8 billion in funding cuts for some programs.” Gates was pretty clear, though, that many programs would indeed be cut, while others would be expanded.
McHugh’s staff did say that the $8 billion figure originated at the Pentagon. According to a committee spokesperson, it “came from conversation our staff on the Armed Services Committee had with DOD officials. They asked them ‘what’s the delta going to be?’ And they said $8 billion.”
I have a call in to the Pentagon to see who briefed the committee, and whether their interpretation is the same as the committee’s, and will report back when I learn more. Until then McHugh’s grounds for claiming Gates is proposing an $8 billion budget cut remain unclear.
Gates himself addressed this criticism in a conference call with reporters earlier today. “Some of these things we have put in the base budget we elected to put into the base budget to send a signal to the troops that these things were going to be a permanent part of the budget, that we weren’t going to be dependent on a supplemental,” Gates said. “[W]hat you chose to put into the supplemental and so on, is probably how Mr. McHugh gets to his numbers.”