WASHINGTON — Fifteen months ago, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan declared that the fiscal year 2020 defense budget would be “a masterpiece” in prioritizing Pentagon needs to resume full-throttle competition with Russia and China.
Now Shanahan is the acting defense secretary. By Tuesday evening, a clear definition of “masterpiece” may arrive.
President Donald Trump is asking for a Pentagon budget of $718 billion for fiscal 2020, encased in an overall $750 billion request for defense, as part of the FY 2020 budget he released Monday. The remaining $32 billion would go to nuclear programs such as nuclear warheads under Department of Energy jurisdiction.
The Pentagon budget breaks down to about $544 billion for the basic defense budget, $9 billion for the Pentagon’s “emergency fund” — hurricane relief and border security — and $165 billion set to go to Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), an account that pays for overseas wars.
The proposed FY 2020 budget is a 4.7 percent increase in the current $716 billion budget.
Funds for the border wall will likely draw congressional opposition, as will the $165 billion for the OCO — widely considered and called a “slush fund” by many on Capitol Hill. Those critics include Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney, a former Republican House member, who opposed it when President Barack Obama was in office.
That fund is not subjected to congressional budget limits as other parts of the 2011 Budget Control Act and has scant oversight. There was $69 billion in the account in fiscal 2019.
Some of the initial defense budget numbers were reported by Reuters and CNN.
Pentagon officials have scheduled a day-long series of budget briefings on Tuesday, where each service branch and various agencies will outline priorities.
Congressional pushback began even before the actual numbers reached Capitol Hill.
“The President’s budget will apparently rely on a giant OCO gimmick to prop up defense spending. If true, this is nothing more than a blatant attempt to make a mockery of the federal budget process, obscure the true cost of military operations, and severely shortchange other investments vital to our national and economic security,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said in a joint statement to the media in February.
The budget is designed to fully embrace the National Defense Strategy that outlines peer competition with China and Russia as atop the Pentagon priority focus, Pentagon officials said Monday. Counter-terrorism, which occupied the Pentagon since 2001, is given a lower priority, they said.
Trump’s first two defense budgets were smaller than those of the early Obama years. The proposal for FY 2020 would be larger than the largest of Obama’s defense budgets.
Meanwhile, China’s defense budget “will jump 7.5 percent this year, down slightly from last year’s 8.1 percent, as Beijing grapples with ongoing territorial disputes and seeks to create a ‘world-class’ military,” the Japan Times reported on March 5.