Will ‘art of the deal’ deal the Pentagon a bigger budget?

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan speaks to reporters at the Pentagon on Nov. 15. (DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

WASHINGTON — The art of the deal appears to have reached the Pentagon as it moves forward with its budget proposal for fiscal year 2020.

After first telling the Pentagon to reduce its next budget request to around $700 billion, President Donald Trump reportedly reversed course and now insists the Pentagon seek a $750 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2020.

The president’s reason: The higher number will be a “negotiating tactic” with Democrats — who the White House thinks plan to whittle down any proposed number, according to numerous published reports.

Just a week ago, Trump declared the $716 billion the Pentagon receives for the current fiscal year as “crazy” and ordered the military to comply with the same 5 percent budget cut he has ordered for other departments.

On Monday, Pentagon spokesperson Col. Rob Manning said the services are looking for a “strategy driven budget” that will be presented to Congress on February 4, 2019, as part of the total White House budget request for fiscal year 2020.

He told Pentagon reporters that a billions-of-dollars budget is critical “to continue to ensure [the U.S. military] remains the most lethal force in the world.”

The Pentagon has a $716 billion budget for the current fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2019. It received $700 billion for fiscal 2018.

Pentagon officials confirmed on Monday that Defense Secretary James Mattis met with Trump on Tuesday to discuss the Pentagon budget. He was joined at that meeting by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex) chairs of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, respectively, Pentagon officials said.

In November, Inhofe had said $733 billion should be a floor, not a ceiling, for the 2020 budget.

The national defense budget includes money for the Pentagon and the military as well as the parts of the Department of Energy that involve nuclear weapons maintenance, as well as small parts of other entities.

Last month, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Mattis would present two budget outlines to Trump — a $733 billion budget and a $700 billion budget — as a way to illustrate what would be cut or reduced in the lower budget.

“I think what I want the president to understand when we bring forward is, what are those trade-offs,” Shanahan told Pentagon reporters on Nov. 15. “So if he has an informed position on $700 [billion] — you know, this — this is either you get, you know, reduced capacity, I get lower quantities of procurement, a changed modernization. My reforms are, you know, a certain size.”

As with other departments, Pentagon funding falls under the Budget Control Act spending caps. As they did for this fiscal year, members of Congress would have to vote to give the limit for the Defense Department to receive a new increase as opposed to a cut.

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