Today’s New York Times features a piece by Thom Shanker that dwells on suspected budget cuts at the Pentagon. As the headline tells us, “After Stimulus Package, Pentagon Officials Are Preparing to Pare Back.”
The piece gives little reason to believe that there are any such plans afoot; Obama did not campaign on cutting the Pentagon budget, and in fact we learn further on that any suspected cuts won’t mean a total decrease in military spending:
Even if overall spending is reduced, the official Defense Department budget may actually grow over last year’s spending plan, because billions of dollars in emergency spending that now passes through Congress in separate legislation is to be rolled back into the regular budget.
So what’s going on here? Reading between the lines, you might conclude that the Pentagon is trying to manufacture a story here, expressing worries about a mostly nonexistent problem in order to drum up some attention (and sympathetic press coverage).
Read a little more, though, and things start to get interesting. Spencer Ackerman reported at the Washington Independent two weeks ago (2/2/09) that the Pentagon had initially requested a $60 billion increase for 2010–an attempt, it seemed, to put pressure on the new administration, which was suggesting a mere 9 percent increase in Pentagon spending. Ackerman’s updated report (2/18/09) suggests that the Pentagon and the White House have agreed on a $537 billion budget–a bigger increase than the White House had apparently wanted.
As Ackerman noted, “The Obama administration could jack its Pentagon budget request to $583,999,999,999.99 and you’d see a flurry of op-eds bemoaning a defense cut.” That’s probably true–and news reports like this from the New York Times perform a similar function on the Pentagon’s behalf.