The president's budget request: too much, too late

 In Nuclear Weapons, Pentagon Spending

President Obama finally submitted his two-months-late budget request to Congress today, and unfortunately it shows that the administration is not grappling with the need to make serious reforms to the Pentagon budget.

If you ever thought the budget process was confusing, this year will make your head spin. Congress has been so dysfunctional that most budgets have not gone through the normal process in recent years, and the automatic spending cuts add another layer of confusion. Wading through the budget morass is even making budget wonks shake their heads.

Here are the main things to know for those of you who are concerned with Pentagon and nuclear weapons spending:

  • The administration is asking for $526.6 billion for the Department of Defense. Even though Congress and the administration haven’t settled on a deal to undo the automatic cuts, this budget request optimistically ignores them. As our colleague Charles Knight at the Project on Defense Alternatives notes, “It’s a very irresponsible thing. Both Congress and the White House are in denial about the law of the land, which is the Budget Control Act. It’s now in effect and they’re acting as though it doesn’t exist.”
  • If Congress doesn’t come up with a deal to undo the cuts, the Pentagon budget will get reduced to $475 billion. This is more than a reasonable amount to protect the country, and Congress should start paring down the budget now.
  • They could start with some of the wasteful weapons systems the budget funds, including the overpriced and underperforming F-35 fighter jet, which gets $8.4 billion in the proposed budget, or missile defense, which comes in at $9.2 billion.
  • The request includes $88 billion as a “placeholder” for the war in Afghanistan. That number assumes 34,000 troops through September of 2014, but the administration is planning to submit a revised request once they make troop level decisions in the coming weeks.
  • In a stunning flip of rational priorities, the administration is bumping up nuclear weapons activities by $500 million from 2012 levels to $7.9 billion, while reducing nonproliferation funds by $460 million. Some of the nonproliferation cuts are good, cutting a dangerous facility masquerading as a viable nonproliferation initiative. But a lot of the cuts fall under programs that secure loose nuclear material around the world, the kind of no-brainer programs to support and a major part of the president’s nuclear nonproliferation agenda. The good news is that there is no money in the budget to build a new bomb plant in New Mexico, a facility Peace Action West supporters have been working to stop.

This means that we will need to ramp up the pressure on Congress to make the responsible decisions that the administration didn’t. We’ll contact you when key decisions are being made, but you can start now by calling the congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121 and urging your representative and senators to support strategic reductions in the Pentagon and nuclear weapons budgets.

We’ll be on Capitol Hill next week bringing your message on the budget to Congress and strategizing with allies on how to move our agenda.

In the meantime, you can read a rolling analysis of the budget from our friends at Taxpayers for Common Sense here, and tune in to Letters and Politics Thursday morning at 10am Pacific Time to hear me talk more about the budget request.

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