Pentagon Touts Relief After Five Years of Budget Restrictions

(Bloomberg) -- The Pentagon is touting last year’s congressionally mandated defense windfall of about $80 billion as relief from five years of “destructive spending caps” that left the U.S. military damaged.

“Providing for the Common Defense,” a glossy 13-page booklet released Wednesday, seeks to reassure U.S. taxpayers that the $700 billion in defense-related spending, including $671 billion for the Pentagon, approved for fiscal 2018 is being spent responsibility.

“Congress did its part” in the Bipartisan Budget Act this year to lift caps on discretionary national security spending by 15 percent, or about $80 billion, the biggest increase since the limits were imposed in 2011, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in the report’s introduction. “We are grateful to the American taxpayers for their support,” and “it is now DoD’s duty to spend these funds responsibility.”

The report was intended to answer “are we buying the things, are we getting the resources necessary to execute” the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy, Comptroller David Norquist told reporters Wednesday.

‘Smallest Military’

Under constraints during the Obama administration, the Pentagon said, the U.S. by 2016 was reduced to “the smallest military since World War II” and experienced “key munitions shortages.” U.S. “aircraft and ships were unable to deploy” and the nation experienced a “declining technological edge,” according to the booklet.

Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan told reporters the purpose wasn’t to “point fingers” at the previous administration but to underscore the damage to the military that resulted from the caps that were aimed at both defense and domestic programs.

Left unsaid was that Congress lifted the budget caps five times before the most recent congressional action, albeit at lower levels. The booklet also failed to acknowledge that billions in war spending not subject to the caps was approved to offset shortages.

“The Pentagon’s colorful language is not spreading the blame broadly enough or over a long enough time horizon,” MacKenzie Eaglen, a defense fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said in an email. “I think that is an unfair characterization of the state of defense in 2016.”

The description ignores a “slow, cumulative buildup of problems and shortfalls over more than two decades in the making,” she said.

Norquist said that “even with the adjustments” made since 2011, spending never gets back to the higher, pre-cap level after inflation. “So there is a significant amount of lost buying capability.”

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