Pentagon Budget May Put Next President in a Pickle Next week, the Pentagon will send its annual budget to Congress. The request totals about $500 billion. But one thing is missing: Most of the money needed to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics say that could present a political dilemma for the next president.

Pentagon Budget May Put Next President in a Pickle

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Next week, the Pentagon will send its annual budget to Congress. The request totals about $500 billion. If approved, it will be the largest military budget adjusted for inflation since World War II. But one thing is missing - most of the money needed to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz reports.

GUY RAZ: Every year, the United States spends more money on defense than the rest of the world combined. And this year's Pentagon budget will account for around a third of all federal spending. Or put another way, add up total spending on education, veterans' benefits, housing, transportation, agriculture and energy, and you still don't reach the total spent on defense in one year. So this year, the Pentagon will try something different. It'll ask Congress for $500 billion, the amount it takes to run the military, and then on top of that, another 70 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But that $70 billion is only a quarter of what it actually costs to fund those wars each year. And Chris Hellman, an analyst with the Center for Arms Control, says it's a deliberate move to obscure just how much money the Pentagon will actually spend in total.

Mr. CHRIS HELLMAN (Analyst, Center for Arms Control): If you bundle those together and you send Congress a three-quarter-of-a-trillion-dollar budget request, even the American people are going to go ugh.

RAZ: So the Pentagon will ask Congress for just enough money to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - again, that $70 billion - through roughly February 2009, just a few weeks after the next president takes office.

And Winslow Wheeler, a budget analyst with the Center for Defense Information, says it…

Mr. WINSLOW WHEELER (Budget Analyst, Center for Defense Information): Stiffs the next president with a urgent requirement to scrounge for money to pay for war expenses that will be unavoidable.

RAZ: Now, last year, Congress required the Pentagon to request all war funding upfront. The idea was to make it easier to track just how much money the wars cost. But this year, the Pentagon decided not to ask for all of it at once. And Chris Hellman believes it'll put the next president in an awkward position.

Mr. HELLMAN: Whoever the next president of the United States is going to be, is going to be forced for budgetary reasons to make some very important policy decisions about the future U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they're going to have to do it right at the beginning of their administration.

RAZ: Even, he says, if that next president takes a completely different position on the wars.

Mr. HELLMAN: Even if an administration, be it Democrat or Republican, were to pull our troops out the day after the inauguration, they were going to announce the troops were coming home, money for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan wouldn't stop that day.

RAZ: Because money would still be needed to pay for salaries and supplies and food and maintenance for the troops in the field, not to mention the cost of bringing them home.

Guy Raz, NPR News, the Pentagon.

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