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Pentagon Ignores Spending Caps in 2016 Budget

Officials defended the U.S. Defense Department's proposed fiscal 2016 budget, even though it ignores spending caps mandated by existing law.

The Pentagon's civilian leaders and top brass on Monday unveiled the defense budget for the year beginning Oct. 1. The spending request totals $585 billion, including a $534 base budget and a $51 billion war budget. That’s an increase of about $25 billion, or 4 percent, in funding from the current year.

The base budget must adhere to caps set forth by the 2011 deficit-control legislation known as the Budget Control Act. Otherwise, the law requires the spending plan to be sliced by automatic, across-the-board spending cuts via a process known as sequestration -- to the tune of about $35 billion next year -- unless lawmakers agree on an alternative plan.

"If the appropriations are enacted and they exceed that budget cap level, it will result in a sequester and it will automatically cut it down," Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, explained during a budget briefing last week at the think tank in Washington, D.C.

During the Pentagon's press conference on Monday, one reporter entertainingly compared the budget request to "Alice in Wonderland" for being a fantasy and disconnected from the political reality on Capitol Hill. The partisan discord was evident in GOP reaction to the White House's budget proposal.

"There is no doubt that the nation’s security requires more spending than is permitted under the current levels," Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry, a Republican from Texas and the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. "Meeting the nation’s needs, however, requires a Commander-in-Chief who is willing to work with Congress to solve the problem rather than continue on the campaign trail."

He added, "Overall, the President’s budget includes many proposals that he knows will never pass in Congress. And yet, in spite of the growing threats to our national security, the President continues to give speeches that polarize the country and Congress."

Still, Pentagon officials defended the budget request. "We've been surviving but not thriving over the past three years," Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said, noting the military's struggle to maintain readiness. "That's why we’re asking for a budget that's above (the spending caps)."

Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord said the strategy of requesting funding above the limits dictated by sequestration has paid off in recent years. "We believe that stating what we think we need has been useful and productive, and it's the right place to start," he said.

Even so, Harrison and other observers warned defense contractors that the roughly $178 billion in proposed funding for acquisition and research and development -- the primary accounts used to fund the development and construction of weapon systems and equipment -- while almost $20 billion more than what was enacted for this year, is far from guaranteed.

"Industry shouldn't expect it's going to be as rosy in FY16 as DoD is telling them," he said.

Indeed, the Pentagon proposed cancelling the Navy's Joint Standoff Weapon air-to-surface glide weapon program developed by Raytheon after determining "there are sufficient  JSOW C (fixed target) and JSOW C-1 maritime moving target) weapons in inventory, and that other weapons will provide a much more formidable capability in future near-peer surface warfare engagements," according to an overview document.

The Air Force is again seeking to retire the aging A-10 attack aircraft, a controversial proposal that met significant resistance in Congress last year.

Lawmakers in the fiscal 2015 budget rejected the service's requests to begin the process of divesting the aircraft currently flying close-air support missions in Iraq -- and included about $337 million to keep it in the inventory. While they did allow the service to move as many as three dozen of the planes to back-up status, they blocked the service from sending any of them to the bone yard.

For new equipment, the Defense Department would spend $11 billion to buy 57 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters next year, up from $8.6 billion to purchase 38 of the fifth-generation stealth fighters, made by Lockheed Martin Corp., this year.

Other acquisition programs slated to receive a significant boost in funding include aircraft such as the Air Force's C-130J Hercules cargo aircraft and the Navy's P-8A Poseidon maritime-patrol aircraft; ships including the Navy's DDG 51 Aegis destroyer; and ground vehicles such as the Army's Joint Light Tactical Vehicle Humvee replacement.

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