The Cable

Obama’s promise for honest war budgeting not kept

President Obama’s commitment to "honest budgeting" for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is going to take another hit when the Pentagon asks for over $740 billion in defense funding next month. The administration came in promising not only to curb the drastic rise in military spending since 2001 but also to account for war ...

President Obama’s commitment to "honest budgeting" for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is going to take another hit when the Pentagon asks for over $740 billion in defense funding next month.

The administration came in promising not only to curb the drastic rise in military spending since 2001 but also to account for war spending transparently and on budget. Shortly after taking office, the White House requested $537 billion for the Pentagon as well as $128 billion for the wars in 2010, but stated in its budget documents that war funding is expected to go down to $50 billion for each year afterwards.

Well, so much for that. In addition to another $33 billion the administration will ask for in 2010 money to pay for the Afghanistan surge, the White House is seeking $159 billion for war operations in the 2011 budget request, according to this AP story. So the Obama team was only off by about $110 billion.What’s more, the total $708 billion Pentagon request for 2011 would give about $549 billion for regular military operations, the largest total in history. Although to be fair, that’s only about a 2 percent increase, which roughly matches the rate of inflation.

But those numbers are just the starting point of negotiations; Congress will have to weigh in. House defense spending cardinal John Murtha, D-PA, has already said he wants to add billions to the 2010 war funding bill. Because that’s supplemental legislation, all that money is off budget and therefore not paid for.

So has the administration learned its lesson about promising drastic cuts in war funding? Not by a long shot.

"The Pentagon projects that war funding would drop sharply in 2012, to $50 billion, and remain there through 2015," the AP story states.

Yeah, right. This is part of the perennial shell game by which the administration is required to project out five years worth of funding, but everybody inside the system knows those projections are pretty much meaningless. This was a common tactic in the Bush years.

Sources tell The Cable that the five-year defense plan Team Obama will release next month will continue that trick, placing items in the out years to defend the fact they are not being funded now. For example, the Air Force’s "next-generation bomber" project will not get funding in 2011 but will be slated to receive money later on, but confidence in that promise is low.

The State Department’s budget request is also subject to these machinations because State is counting on big increases in funding to pay for the increased role it will have in Iraq after the military leaves.

The State Department is planning a huge expansion of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and will also need a new influx of security contractors to guard all the new personnel throughout Iraq and money to take over the police training mission there.

Multiple sources tell The Cable that State asked for an 11 percent increase in its budget, although that might not be a final figure.

The budget release is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 1.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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