US President Donald Trump called for defense spending cuts during a Cabinet meeting on October 17th. In fact, he asked all cabinet members to institute budget cuts of at least 5% for their departments in 2019.
Speaking to the press prior to the Cabinet meeting, Trump spoke of his plan to ask every secretary to make a cut of 5% “if not more” in 2019. This is a result of data by the Treasury Department, which was released on October 15th that showed the US budget deficit rose to its highest level since 2012.
Trump added the Defense Department’s budget “will probably be $700 billion,” down from its current funding at $716 billion.
“Get rid of the fat. Get rid of the waste,” Trump was cited as having said during the meeting by the WSJ during. “It’ll have a huge impact.”
Reporters specifically asked him for Department of Defense funding and he said that they wouldn’t be exempt. He said that the Pentagon’s budget “will probably be $700 billion” for fiscal year 2020, nothing that “because now that we have our military taken care of, we have our law enforcement taken care of, we can do things that we really weren’t in a position to do when I first came.”
As reported by Defense News:
“The Pentagon’s budget for FY19 was $686.1 billion, with overall national security funding set at $716 billion. Additionally, a drop from $716 billion to $700 billion is only a 2.23 percent drop; a full 5 percent cut would put national security spending to $680, with the Pentagon’s total at $651.7 billion.”
A decrease of the Pentagon budget to $700 billion would, in fact, be a funding increase. Trump’s comments, however, indicated that he is referring to a drop from the larger $716 billion sum.
“It was at 520 a very short while ago. And the reason I brought it up to 700 and then 716 was to build new ships,” Trump said. “We’re building new, incredible submarines, the finest in the world, most powerful in the world, anywhere, ever. We’re doing things that we have never done on this scale. So that included a lot of rebuilding of our military. So despite that, I’m going to keep that at $700 billion defense. OK?”
Defense News requested a clarification on Trump’s comments from a member of the National Security member, but it was not returned.
— Todd Harrison (@ToddHarrisonDC) October 17, 2018
Trump’s comments come at a time when the Pentagon has been planning to invest in capabilities under the National Defense Strategy. Department of Defense officials have been clear about the need of a 2 to 3% growth above inflation to fund requirements, but while also being able to invest in manpower and new technologies. According to Defense News, there is a sense that Fiscal Year 2020 may only come with an inflation bump.
“This two-year plus-up, where we’ve seen some gains, if that isn’t sustained in 2020 or beyond, you’re going to lose whatever the goodness was that came from last year and this year,” Dakota Wood, an analyst with The Heritage Foundation, was cited by Defense News.
“FY19 is now the ceiling. It’s not the floor to build from,” Wood said. “What folks on the Hill and [the Office of Management and Budget] and others are looking at is the domestic political situation. … To argue for even more spending on defense is just politically not a real, viable prospect. Because you’re talking about a future danger.”
Trump also blamed Democrats, saying that they “forced him” to spend more than he wanted to on domestic programs in order to secure the increase in Defense Department funding.
“I had to do that in order to get the $700 and the $716 billion, those numbers have never been heard of before,” Trump said. “I had to give the Democrats, I call it ‘waste money,’ and things that I would have approved, but we had to do that in order to get the votes because we don’t have enough Republican votes to do this without them.”
The fact of the matter is, despite the 5% or currently lower decrease in funding, the FY2019 budget is the largest ever. The FY2020 budget promises to be somewhat lower, however that is yet to be seen since Trump is expected to present his budget proposal in early 2019.
Thus, the move to decrease the budget is a bit of a misdirection. The budget was over-all increased by an amount larger than 5% from the previous year and the 5% reduction leaves it at an amount that is still higher than previous budgets. However, it leaves voters in the incoming November 4th mid-term elections that defense spending was cut, among other “needless projects.”