Breaking Down the Pentagon's Budget
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz explains why.
GUY RAZ: Say our Defense Department was an independent country. If it was, the Pentagon would be the 11th richest country in the world - richer than India, richer than Brazil, richer than almost every country in the European Union. Now if you count the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon's budget this year will top $600 billion.
CHRISTOPHER HELLMAN: One of the ironies is is that even though we're spending, you know, $500 billion in the annual budget and then an additional about $140 to $150 billion just to fund the war, is that that's not enough.
RAZ: Here's retired Army General John Batiste with the numbers.
JOHN BATISTE: Back during World War II, the Defense budget was 34 percent of our Gross Domestic Product. During Korea, it was just under 12 percent. During Vietnam, it was 9 percent of our Gross Domestic Product.
RAZ: Now late last week, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, gave a press briefing. And he said if the Congress doesn't send the Pentagon another $100 billion fast, the result might be...
ROBERT GATES: ...delaying or curtailing the deployment of brigade combat teams to their training rotations. This, in turn, will cause additional units in theater to have their tours extended because other units are not ready to take their place.
RAZ: Translation: The surge of troops to Iraq may have to be put on ice for a few weeks. But if the Pentagon already gets about half a trillion a year, can't they find money somewhere else? That's a question I put to Christopher Hellman.
HELLMAN: As large as the defense budget is, because of the way it's structured - the commitments that you take on over a long period of time and personnel costs which are basically fixed costs - you don't have as much flexibility as one might imagine.
DOUG ZAKHEIM: It would be impossible to shift because of the way Congress manages the budget.
RAZ: And Doug Zakheim should know. He worked at the Pentagon for three years. He was the comptroller overseeing the budget.
ZAKHEIM: In fact, Congress allows the comptroller the ability to move less than three-quarters of one percent of the entire budget.
RAZ: Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington.
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