The Budget Deal Gives the Pentagon Just As Much Money As It Got During the Iraq War

Once again, tea partiers and Democrats agree not to mess with the military.


Today’s the last day for Congress to pass a budget deal and avert a government shutdown. Part of the $1.1 trillion “Cromnibus” package is the 2015 defense budget. While there’s been some wrangling over pay and benefits for service members, finalizing the Pentagon budget has been relatively uncontentious. 

That’s because the Pentagon is one of the few recipients of discretionary spending that most budget-slashing tea partiers and entitlement-friendly Democrats are reluctant to touch. If the current deal passes, the Pentagon’s total funding in the 2015 fiscal year, including war-fighting costs, will come in at around $554 billion—close to what it got during the height of the Iraq War.

To be fair, the Pentagon is making do with less. Its total budget has shrunk more than 20 percent since it recently peaked in 2010. The bipartisan sequestration deal that went into effect in 2013 is supposed to keep it on a diet for the foreseeable future. However, those budget caps are looking more and more like irksome suggestions rather than requirements. Congress gave the military a partial reprieve from the caps last year, and even President Obama has spoken out against “the draconian cuts that are called for in sequestration.”

The Pentagon’s proposed 2015 base budget comes in under the spending caps, yet its 2016 budget will face tighter constraints—if lawmakers stick to them. There’s already talk that the administration’s next defense budget will exceed the caps by $60 billion. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the Pentagon’s base budget will exceed the spending caps by more than $300 billion over the next six years.

One workaround for the budget caps is the Pentagon’s war-fighting budget, a.k.a. Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). Since it’s not part of the base budget subject to automatic caps, some critics have described it as “an off-budget war chest slush fund.” The current defense budget before Congress authorizes more than $63 billion for overseas operations, including ongoing operations in Afghanistan, the air campaign against ISIS, and the military response to Ebola in West Africa. There is no similar safety valve for nondefense discretionary programs, whose funding has dropped 15 percent since 2010, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

And just to keep things in perspective: Even with sequestration and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, defense spending remains close to its highest level since World War II.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.