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Pentagon’s Budget Projections Ignore Long-Term Caps

Even as Pentagon officials call on Congress to accept painful cuts outlined in their spending proposal for next year, their own budget projections ignore the long-term caps currently in place for fiscal 2016 and beyond.

The Defense Department abided by statutory spending limits for the first time in the fiscal 2015 request it sent to Capitol Hill in March. But its five-year spending plan, which is essentially a blueprint for its priorities in the so-called out years, blows past those caps by $115 billion.

And even at those inflated spending levels, the plan doesn’t pay for items the military services have deemed necessary, including a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers and an Army and Marine Corps that is thousands of troops larger than their long-term plans prescribe.

In short, if the Pentagon receives the additional $115 billion it wants — something widely believed to be unlikely — it still has a multibillion-dollar hole in its spending proposal, endangering its plans for future years if Congress doesn’t raise the budget caps.

The gap between plans and reality only underscores the reluctance on both sides of the Potomac to make the cuts necessary to get the Pentagon’s budget down to the size mandated by the budget caps. The Pentagon has proposed a slew of cuts, but many more may be needed if the department does not get relief from stringent spending limits.

“The shrinking budgets have meant that many important programs, such as large headquarters staffs, generous contractor support contracts, and generous travel policies have been changed and cut back,” Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said at a June 18 hearing with Pentagon leaders. “But it’s not clear the department is making all of the tough choices required in this budget environment.”