In his 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama called for a “non-security” discretionary spending freeze to help bring down the deficit. He proposed exempting “security-related budgets for the Pentagon, foreign aid, the Veterans Administration and homeland security,” as well as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
On a party-line vote of 12 to 10 yesterday, the Senate Budget Committee approved “a $3.7 trillion budget blueprint” that goes further than Obama’s plan by “slicing $9.5 billion from discretionary spending in fiscal year 2011.” Under the Senate Budget Committee blueprint, approximately half of the savings would come from dramatic cuts to the budgets of the State Department and other international aid programs. Nevertheless, the committee decided to actually increase the Defense Department’s funding:
The 2011 federal spending plan approved by the committee Thursday on a 12–10 vote provides $573.8 billion for the Defense Department, which includes $133 billion for contingency operations. The amount makes the Defense Department one of the few federal agencies to see a budget increase; the non-war funding part of the defense budget would represent a 3.5 percent increase over 2010 funding.
Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Department Secretary Robert Gates supported full funding for Obama’s foreign affairs budget request. In her letter to Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) on April 20, Clinton argued that international aid is actually more “cost-effective” than military spending:
Our investments in development and diplomacy are smart, cost-effective, and squarely in the best interests of American taxpayers and our national security. They are relatively small compared to the cost of active military engagement, and they can end up delivering impactful savings. In Iraq, for example, our $2.6 billion request for State and USAID will allow the Defense Department budget to decrease by about $16 billion — a powerful illustration of the return on civilian investments.
As CAP Senior Fellow Lawrence J. Korb has advocated, the Defense Department should not be exempted from this spending freeze. Freezing “the base defense budget at its current level of about $532 billion would not hinder the Pentagon’s ability to conduct the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Approximately $20 billion in savings could come from, among other measures, cutting missile defense while maintaining funding for its continued research and development, cutting FY 2011 F-35 purchases to twenty, and canceling the Zumwalt-class DDG-1000 at two ships.
The Department of Veterans Affairs also saw a 7.4 percent boost in the Senate Budget Committee’s proposal. The Obama administration requested the increases for both budgets. As the Navy Times notes, this blueprint is “just the first step in the long congressional budget process. The House Budget Committee has not started writing its version of the budget blueprint.”