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Trump administration to propose $750 billion military budget this week

Posted at 8:58 PM, Mar 10, 2019

President Donald Trump will ask for a Pentagon budget of $718 billion for 2020, part of an overall $750 billion request for defense, two US officials tell CNN.

The figure includes both the Pentagon budget as well as the nuclear weapons elements of the Energy Department budget.

The Pentagon request represents an increase of 4.7% over this year’s budget.

However, given the fact that the Democrats control the House of Representatives, it’s unclear whether the budget proposal can win congressional approval.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget and the Defense Department did not comment on the figures and the administration is expected to formally announce the figures next week.

“We won’t have anything for you until Tuesday,” acting chief Pentagon spokesman Charles Summers told reporters Friday when asked about the budget.

He did say the administration’s budget would be “strategy driven” and build on the last two budgets.

The officials told CNN that approximately $544 billion is being requested for the “base” defense budget with an additional $9 billion going to an “emergency” fund. The remaining $165 billion would go to “Overseas Contingency Operations,” an account that pays for military operations overseas in places like Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. That’s a dramatic increase from the 2019 budget, which sought $69 billion for that operational account.

The increase has raised questions as that money is typically reserved for combat operations as they are shielded from Congressional budget caps like those which were part of the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The Trump administration’s decision to make a large OCO request, which was reported previously by several media outlets, was criticized earlier by senior Democratic lawmakers.

“The President’s budget will apparently rely on a giant OCO gimmick to prop up defense spending. If true, this is nothing more than a blatant attempt to make a mockery of the federal budget process, obscure the true cost of military operations, and severely shortchange other investments vital to our national and economic security,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said in a joint statement last month.

While the amount of money requested for that account reached similar levels during the early years of the Obama Administration, at that time the US had some 150,000 troops deployed to active combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan compared to 14,000 troops in Afghanistan and some 7,000 in Iraq and Syria today where US forces now serve largely in advisory roles.

The potential use of the account for purposes other than operations overseas is bound to raise concerns within some quarters of Congress.

Trump has long touted increasing defense budgets as a major success of his presidency.

“You’re only doing that because I gave you the greatest and biggest budget in our history,” Trump told a crowd at the Pentagon in January.

“I’ve now done it two times, and I hate to tell the rest of the world, but I’m about to do it three times,” he added, strongly suggesting that he would provide another defense spending boost.

While the first two defense budgets of his administration were smaller than those of the early Obama years, the upcoming budget would represent an increase over the peak Obama-era budgets of $691 billion in 2010.

In December, administration officials told CNN that Trump had agreed to a request from then-Defense Secretary James Mattis to propose a defense budget of $750 billion for 2020.

Officials said that agreement came following a meeting between Trump and Mattis that was also attended by the then-chairman of the House Armed Services committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and the current chairman of the Senate Armed Services committees, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma.

Mattis resigned weeks after following a disagreement over Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria.

The day prior to that meeting, Trump had publicly signaled an intent to shrink defense spending, appearing to call the Pentagon’s 2019 budget of $716 billion “crazy” in a tweet.

The Trump administration had earlier floated a 5% cut to the Defense Department, reducing the defense budget from $716 billion allocated in 2019 to $700 billion in 2020 as part of a federal government-wide effort to reduce the deficit. Defense officials were planning on a $733 billion budget for 2020 prior to the proposed cuts.

The $750 billion figure tracked with what some experts, including a congressionally appointed panel, have said should be a yearly 3% to 5% increase to the defense budget, which includes money for the military as well as the nuclear weapons element of the Department of Energy.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment.

Defense officials have publicly said anything under $733 billion would increase risk.

The larger budget request comes as Trump administration officials have said they would use the 2020 budget to help replenish the $3.5 billion in military construction funds that Trump has sought to tap to pay for his border wall via his declaration of a national emergency.

The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, Robert McMahon, told a House Appropriations Committee hearing last week that the intent was to defer some military construction projects to free up funds for the wall.

“Some will be deferred and if in fact, they are deferred, those projects will be… funds for those will be included the president’s budget for 2020,” McMahon said.