The Bush administration will ask Congress next week to step up next year's military budget by $18.4 billion--an increase the Pentagon says it needs to bolster an overburdened and underfunded military but which critics say will bleed money from other government programs.
The figure, outlined Friday by a senior Pentagon official, would bring the administration's total 2002 defense request to $343.5 billion. That is 10.3% more than the $311.3 billion provided so far this year--a far larger increase than President Bush has sought for domestic programs.
And while the request includes $600 million to begin preliminary work on Bush's proposed missile defense system, it does not include money to fund Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's sweeping plan to reshape and modernize the military into a more lethal, more nimble and smaller modern force.
"The administration has inherited severe shortfalls in readiness, in health care, in operations, maintenance and infrastructure, far worse than was originally understood," the Pentagon official said. "This amendment takes steps to begin to deal with these funding deficiencies and to establish fiscal discipline."
The request, which the administration will formally send to Congress on Wednesday, was roughly in the range of what lawmakers had expected. But it is likely to be greeted with skepticism by Democrats on Capitol Hill. Many complain that, combined with the recently enacted tax cut of $1.35 trillion over 10 years, the defense request would squeeze out money needed for schools, prescription drug benefits and other initiatives they favor.
"What concerns me more than this immediate request is that more requests like this will be coming, and looking at the numbers right now I don't see where the money is going to come from to pay for it," said Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, a top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and his party's senior member on the Budget Committee.
Spratt said that Congress would probably be able to fund the 2002 request, but just barely. He predicted that Bush administration requests to maintain and add to that increase would meet with considerably more resistance. Referring to the administration's stated desire to boost spending for education and other programs without dipping into Medicare and Social Security surpluses, he said: "It puts all of this in competition. This becomes a tight budget now, and to the extent that the numbers get adjusted for a slumping economy, the budget gets tighter and tighter."
The budget crunch is bad news for the Pentagon, which needs to replace aging weapon systems. The longer the military puts off modernizing its weapon systems, which each year siphon more money from the overall defense budget, the harder it will be to transform a force that was designed during the Cold War.
Administration officials argue that they also inherited a military with severe and pressing personnel needs and say they need the new funds to address those urgent concerns. The request will include $4.1 billion for pay and housing and $2 billion for the military's rising health care costs, according to a senior Pentagon official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
It also will include $8 billion for spare parts, repairs, the flying time of aircraft and other expenses needed to keep the services ready for action, and $3.6 billion to modernize communications and other systems.
Even as the administration is struggling to get its 2002 budget passed, it is beginning to draft a 2003 budget. Rumsfeld has assembled more than 18 panels to study aspects of the Pentagon, part of what he has promised will be a sweeping transformation of the military. He is working on a quadrennial review, which is due to Congress in September and likely will shape the Pentagon's 2003 budget.
Instead of a military built around potential threats, Rumsfeld said he will suggest structuring the military around capabilities designed to counter a wide range of problems in a rapidly changing world. One idea is to create joint task forces that would be prepared to respond quickly to potential conflicts such as the 1999 war in Kosovo, a province of Serbia in Yugoslavia.
Moving away from a defense strategy built around the ability to fight and win two major wars at once will give the Pentagon more freedom to invest in and experiment with weapon systems designed for future conflicts, Rumsfeld maintains.
In recent weeks, several of the panels have released reports of their recommendations. The most recent, released Friday, recommends spending an additional $45 billion over six years to expand the fleet of Air Force C-17 transport planes and accelerate development of a new generation of Army vehicles and unmanned spy planes.
It also recommends cutting the Air Force's B-1 bomber fleet and the Navy's DD-21 next-generation destroyer program, for a savings of $10 billion, while reducing the number of U.S. forces based in Europe. The U.S. has 100,000 troops currently stationed in Europe.