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F-18 fighter. One of the Pentagon's "big ticket" items.
It's the classic guns vs. butter debate.
With record deficits looming, it was probably only a matter of time before Pentagon spending came under scrutiny. Sacred cow entitlement programs have consumed the budget, leaving few, if any, other places to look for cuts.
President Obama has asked for a 2.2 percent increase next year, to $708 billion. That's 6 percent higher than any of President George W. Bush's Pentagon budgets.
But as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, so too likely will military spending. The New York Times reports today that the days of 7 percent growth per year after inflation are probably over. And that sentiment is bipartisan, at least on the president's deficit commission:
“We’re going to have to take a hard look at defense if we are going to be serious about deficit reduction,” said Erskine B. Bowles, a chief of staff to President Bill Clinton who is a co-chairman of the deficit commission. Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire who is also on the debt commission, said that if the panel pushes for cuts in discretionary spending, “defense should be looked at,” perhaps through another base-closing commission.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is trying to forestall cuts. He thinks he can find 2 percent or 3 percent savings in administration to reinvest in guns and ships and argues to keep the overall budget growing by about 1 percent per year.
While there's "no way" Congress could push through cuts right now, Hawaii Democrat Sen. Daniel Inouye, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was quoted by the Times as saying that once most of the troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan, "I’m pretty certain cuts are coming — in defense and the whole budget.”