White House Requests $515 Billion for the Pentagon

Pentagon comptroller Tina Jonas discusses the agency's $515.4 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2009 in a news conference with Vice Adm. P. Stephen Stanley of the Joint Staff.
Pentagon comptroller Tina Jonas discusses the agency's $515.4 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2009 in a news conference with Vice Adm. P. Stephen Stanley of the Joint Staff. (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)
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By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

President Bush yesterday requested $515.4 billion for the fiscal 2009 Pentagon budget, a 7.5 percent increase from last year's spending request that is aimed at expanding the Army and Marine Corps, boosting force readiness and future combat capabilities, and improving the quality of life of service members.

The administration also sought an additional $70 billion in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a short-term spending request that could force the next administration to make critical war-funding decisions during the first days of its term.

Congress so far has given the Pentagon $87 billion of the administration's $190 billion war-funding request for 2008. Defense officials yesterday used the budget announcement to ask lawmakers to approve the rest of the funding, saying that the Pentagon might be unable to pay soldiers at war by June and that continued delays could cause operational problems in Iraq by July.

"Our ability to continue this level of effort there" would be undermined, and "we'll have to stop operations about that time," Vice Adm. P. Stephen Stanley, director for force structure, resources and assessment on the Joint Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference.

Military officials said they expect that the $70 billion in war funding will need to grow significantly to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next year. However, following the administration's wartime pattern, yesterday's request separated out funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon officials are unsure how much they are going to need for the wars and are awaiting an assessment this spring from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

The Defense Department's base budget request is more than 70 percent higher than the $302 billion Pentagon budget in fiscal 2001, before the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq began, and it has risen consistently during the Bush administration. Defense experts said they were not surprised to see the budget grow again. The budget generally funds previously announced policies and strategies, and shows increases in areas that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has identified as priorities.

Though real spending would rise to its highest level since World War II, defense officials were quick to point out that the 2009 budget and war supplemental request represent approximately 4 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP), far less than the military's budget of 9 percent of the GDP during the Vietnam War era and of 34.5 percent during World War II. Analysts questioned the comparison because of the economy's dramatic expansion since then.

Tina W. Jonas, the Pentagon's comptroller, told reporters at the Pentagon that there are four areas in which the Defense Department would like to see notable budget increases: an $8.7 billion increase to expand the Army and Marine Corps, a $7.9 billion increase to improve force readiness, a $10.5 billion increase to develop future combat capabilities and an $8.9 billion increase to improve the "quality of life" of service members.

As part of an overall rise of $35.9 billion from last year, the budget request would grant service members a 3.4 percent pay raise. The budget also would recruit, train and equip 65,000 additional active-duty Army soldiers and 27,000 Marines over five years, fulfilling a plan to increase the size of the force in order to relieve the stresses that the wars have placed on the military.

The administration predicts that military spending will flatten out or decline over coming years, even as new programs such as the advanced Joint Strike Fighter jet, or F-35, move into full-scale production. Steven Kosiak, a budget expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said that 2009 was expected to be a budgetary peak for the Pentagon but that projections of a flat or declining military budget could be difficult for the next president to sustain.

"This is a stay-the-course budget," Kosiak said. "The administration projects a plan showing the base budget declining, and there's good reason to believe that there will be a lot of pressure to restrain spending. It will be left to the next administration how to sort this out. If they're going to abide by it, they will have to start scaling back plans or will have to add more money."

Michael O'Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution, said the 2009 budget fully funds the military services with few, if any, sacrifices. He said he expects to see a continued rise in weapons procurement.

"You give the services what they're requesting, and you see the budget go up like this," O'Hanlon said. "It makes it very hard to figure out how to cut. If a new president wants to make a meaningful dent in the budget, how can they?"

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