Bush's Defense Budget Biggest Since Reagan Era

Soldiers from the 1st Division, 4th Brigade, train at Fort Riley, Kan. They will go to Iraq as part of a 21,500-troop
Soldiers from the 1st Division, 4th Brigade, train at Fort Riley, Kan. They will go to Iraq as part of a 21,500-troop "surge," an expense not included in President Bush's new defense budget. (By Charlie Riedel -- Associated Press)
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 6, 2007

President Bush's defense budget request of $481.4 billion -- an 11 percent boost over last year -- pushes U.S. defense spending to levels not seen since the Reagan-era buildup of the 1980s.

In addition, the president is seeking a projected $141.7 billion in emergency supplemental funding for 2008 for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for broader anti-terrorism efforts -- bringing the total spent in those arenas since 2001 to $661 billion, eclipsing in real terms the cost of the Vietnam War.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans welcomed the fact that for the first time the administration had submitted its supplemental war funding requests at the same time as its defense budget, thus offering a clearer look at overall defense spending.

"This will help Congress and the American people gain a more realistic picture of the budget impact of the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and the broader war on terrorism," said Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Pentagon officials noted that the 2008 supplemental request does not include additional funding for Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq. The most recent 2007 supplemental request of $93 billion includes $5.6 billion to add five Army brigades and 4,000 Marines to the force in Iraq.

Undersecretary of Defense Tina W. Jonas called the troop increase "a near-term initiative," echoing recent suggestions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that the increase is anticipated to last only several months.

Defense analysts have long argued that the war spending should be viewed in conjunction with the regular defense budget.

"We can't make heads or tails of the defense budget without understanding global war on terrorism funding," said Steven M. Kosiak, director of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a defense think tank. He said that because wartime supplemental budgets receive less scrutiny, there was an incentive for the military services to shift costs for modernization programs into those budgets.

The latest 2007 supplemental request, for example, includes $400 million for two of the Pentagon's most modern aircraft, the Joint Strike Fighter, to replace F-16 fighter jets that were lost in combat. "When in doubt, it's a war cost," Kosiak said.

Pentagon officials stressed that the 2008 supplemental request is likely to change depending on the progress of the wars.

"We know that it will be wrong," Jonas said at the briefing. She said the 2008 war spending request assumes pre-"surge" U.S. troop levels of 140,000 in Iraq and 20,000 in Afghanistan. "Conditions will change and we'll have to adjust," she said.

One of the biggest areas in which such an adjustment is likely is in funding to replace and repair equipment. So far the administration has asked for $37.5 billion for reconstituting equipment in 2007 and yesterday projected an additional $37.6 billion for 2008.

Army officials said yesterday that the addition of five Army brigades in Iraq probably would lead to additional equipment repair costs beyond the $13.6 billion the Army has budgeted for 2008. "That was based on an assumption of 15 brigades in combat. Now we're up to 20," said Lt. Gen. David Melcher, director of Army programs.

Reflecting another major cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the latest 2007 supplemental funding includes an additional $2.4 billion for the Pentagon organization tasked with combating roadside bombs, with an additional $4 billion projected for 2008.

The defense budget increases the proportion of overall defense spending that would go to the Army (from 25.4 percent to 27 percent), and the Marine Corps (from 3.7 percent to 4.3 percent), while lowering that for the Navy (25.5 to 24.8 percent) and Air Force (from 29.7 percent to 28.2 percent). The shift reflects the preponderant role of ground forces in today's wars but could also foreshadow intensified rivalry between the services, defense experts said.

"You're going to see a period of new intra-service rivalry," said Robert Work, a senior defense analyst at CSBA.

Part of the growth in the Army's and Marine Corps' budgets includes $12 billion toward an increase in those branches of 92,000 troops over the next five years. The 2007 supplemental also includes $3.6 billion to speed up the creation of two Army brigades and one Marine regimental combat team -- aimed at reducing stress on active-duty soldiers and Marines who now spend as much time in combat as at home.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company