While the Trump administration’s proposed $738 billion defense-spending budget for 2020 would mark the fifth consecutive year of increase, questions remain about how it would be spent.
If Congress approves the measure as proposed, it would provide a smaller cushion against inflation than those in the budgets that took effect between 2007 and 2012, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a non-partisan Washington, D.C., think tank.
The ’20 budget, which would fund the Pentagon from Oct. 1, 2019 through Sept. 30, 2020, would provide for more inflation-adjusted funding than budgets during the Korean and Vietnam wars and the buildup during the Reagan administration, according to the report, which was written by Travis Sharp, a CSBA research fellow.
While refuting Trump’s claim that defense spending has reached its highest levels during his presidency, Sharp acknowledged that passage of the 2020 budget would make Trump only the fourth president to “attain positive real growth in total DoD obligational authority in each of his first three annual budgets.”
The size of the defense budget has direct effects upon U.S. military strength, the federal deficit, and U.S. standing abroad, Sharp wrote.
“Yet, how DoD allocates funds across programs also matters greatly,” he wrote, citing three specific tests the budget must pass in order to meet requirements of the National Defense Strategy, as put forth in 2018 by former Defense Secretary James Mattis.
The 2020 budget passes two of the three tests, Sharp believes.
* It fails what Sharp calls the “Winners Test,” enlarging total DoD spending devoted to mission areas that support the National Defense Strategy.
* It passes what he calls the “Topline Test,” by failing to increase the base budget by three to five percent in real term when compared to the 2019 budget.
* It also passes what Sharp calls the “Scenarios Test,” which would divide funds “in accordance with the force planning scenarios that the [National Defense Strategy] prioritized.”
Budget winners include general purpose forces, research and development, and space systems — all of which reflect the administration’s interest in matching threats posed by China and Russia, Sharp wrote. Support for other nations, special operations, and munitions also would gain.
“Passing two out of three tests demonstrates that the FY 2020 budget request is not the major failure declaimed by some analysts. However, [it] falls short of fully supporting the National Defense Strategy, meaning a strategy-resource gap will exist for the foreseeable future,” Sharp wrote.
Based on that scenario, Sharp advised policymakers to consider the balance of risks between what they “can tolerate,” and “allocate future defense funds accordingly.”