Analysts: ‘Positive First Step’ In Flattening Proposed Increases To Pentagon Budget, But ‘Long Way To Go’

Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the cuts to past projections for military spending were “tough” and “real,” and said they “obviously will cause some pain.” The cuts, as Center for American Progress analysts Lawrence Korb, Max Hoffman and Alex Rothman wrote today, constitute a “positive first step and a major achievement. It will be the first real reduction in baseline defense spending in more than a decade.” But more needs to be done: “[T]here is a long way to go to reach sustainable levels of defense spending and bring the Pentagon budget back in line with historical norms.”

First the hard numbers: The reductions to projected spending resulted from what Panetta called “mandated savings” in his Pentagon presser, imposed by Congress in the Budget Control Act.

The upcoming year’s Pentagon baseline budget will indeed be smaller than this year’s — by $6 billion, representing about a 1.1 percent reduction from 2012’s $531 budget. But, as the L.A. Times notes:

[O]ver the next four years, the Pentagon budget would rise each year, reaching $567 billion by 2017. In inflated adjusted dollars, spending is essentially flat, Pentagon projections show.

The Pentagon budget will actually be rising in nominal terms. In 2017, the Pentagon will be spending $36 billion more than this year. That’s an average 2 percent increase over five years. However, the New York Times adds that “adjusted for inflation, the increases are small enough that they will amount to a slight cut of 1.6 percent of the Pentagon’s base budget over the next five years.” (The numbers exclude spending on the Afghanistan war, which is appropriated separately and expected to drop from $115 billion this year to $88 billion next year.)

Making good on Panetta’s commitment “not to hollow out the force,” McClatchy notes that the Pentagon’s “planned reduction in ground forces by 2017 would still leave a larger military than before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The Center for American Progress analysts also took into account the end of the Iraq war and, coming within three years, the end of the Afghanistan war:

Unfortunately, we have done nothing to roll back more than a decade of continuous growth in military spending, despite the end of the war in Iraq and the beginning of our drawdown in Afghanistan.

They wrote that the cuts to proposed spending “represent a small step toward a more reasonable, sustainable strategic stance,” but merely kick the can down the road on other “hard choices the Pentagon must face over the coming years.”