Military Faces Tough Choices In Obama's Budget

The Obama administration will no longer pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from special add-on budgets. Instead, the cost of war will have to come from the regular Pentagon budget. The military will have to make some tough choices on where to cut.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The budget that President Obama released today calls for spending $3.5 trillion next year. Right now we're going to try to make sense of just one critical part of that budget: it's the question of how the country pays for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

NPR's Bruce Auster has been doing the math, and he has this report.

BRUCE AUSTER: So, you'd be excused for thinking that the Pentagon budget is actually used to pay for war. It's not. Year after year, on top of the half a trillion dollars in its regular budget, the Pentagon also asks for what's called supplemental funding. This year that comes to 140 billion and that's what pays for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The trouble is, that pot of money also gets used for other things.

Bob Work is with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Dr. ROBERT WORK (Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments): Over the last eight years, instead of just paying for the cost of the troops, for the ammunition, for the fuel, for the spare parts, more and more and more programs started to creep into the supplemental.

AUSTER: Now President Obama says the true cost of war must no longer be counted off the books. He's not doing away with separate war budgets entirely, but they will be a lot smaller, which means weapons that got paid for from those supplemental budgets will get squeezed into the regular Pentagon budget and force the military to make some tough choices. The question is where to cut?

Dr. DOV ZACKHEIM (Former Defense Undersecretary): Military personnel account's not going to go down.

AUSTER: Dov Zackheim is a former undersecretary of defense.

Dr. ZACKHEIM: The operations account clearly is not going to go down 'cause that's what takes up most of the supplemental. So, if to the extent there's crowding, it's going to be in the procurement accounts and the acquisition accounts.

AUSTER: What that really means, says Zackheim, is that planes and tanks won't be built. And that could mean more jobs lost across the country, which is a problem the president does not need right now.

Bruce Auster, NPR News, Washington.

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