Women Legislators' Lobby

Budget Time is Dessert Time at the Pentagon

The Pentagon, 2008.  [Image Credit: David B. Gleason, under Creative Commons 2 License.]

The Pentagon, 2008.
[Image Credit: David B. Gleason, under Creative Commons 2 License.]

Yesterday the President released his Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2016 (which will begin on October 1, 2015). The $4 trillion budget sets a blueprint for the Administration’s budget priorities and is a work plan for federal agencies.

Congress, however, has an important role to play in casting its own budget vision and then allocating the dollars to fund the government. In many ways the President’s budget is really an opening offer. It is appropriate that this budget came out on Groundhog Day since we predict more than six weeks of partisan Congressional debate on budget priorities will follow. (And we are even more confident in that than winter in New England lasting a while longer…)

At WiLL, we think it’s important for everyone to engage in the federal budget debate, especially since we know how impactful federal budgeting decisions are on our states’ budgets. The federal budget is not just a set of numbers – it reflects our nation’s fundamental values and priorities. We’ll be sending out more analysis and updates on budget issues in the coming days, including our budget pies. We hope this will help you understand and talk about the federal budget.

Next week, we will be sending a letter for you circulate to your colleagues in the state legislature. The letter will outline the importance of scrutinizing the Pentagon budget, finding cost savings in wasteful spending, and ensuring strong national security and sensible budget priorities. We hope you will join WiLL in collecting signatures from every state. We will send the letter to Congress in late March when debate and decisions about budgets and spending are getting underway.

Pie for the Pentagon

For now, we’d like to note that Pentagon spending once again gets a big piece of the pie when it comes to discretionary spending.   “Discretionary spending” is the portion of the budget that Congress debates and appropriates each year to keep the government agencies working. Roughly one third of this spending goes to our states. This year the discretionary budget is about $1.155 trillion.

Including the Department of Defense, nuclear weapons-related spending (which is growing at a prodigious rate – see more analysis on this budget coming soon), and war spending (see more on the war spending slush fund below), the total discretionary defense budget function is $612 billion, more than half of the discretionary budget pie.

Spending Over the Caps

The President has made it clear that his intention is to set a budget course “reversing mindless austerity” and aiming to invest in the middle class. Thus, he is asking for funding above the congressionally agreed-to budget caps and asking Congress to do away with “sequestration” or automatic cuts that will take place if budget caps are exceeded. About half of the increase ($38 billion) is for defense spending, and the other half ($37 billion) is spread across all the other pieces of the discretionary pie.

There are a number of great new investments that the President would like to make with this money – like community college tuition, expanded preschool, major infrastructure improvements, and more. To pay for the increases over the budget caps for all discretionary spending, the Administration has proposed various tax cuts and reforms.

Generally, lawmakers in the Republican-led House and Senate are likely to be very resistant to raising the spending caps and resistant to tax proposals as well. For example, House Speaker Boehner stated: “Today President Obama laid out a plan for more taxes, more spending, and more of the Washington gridlock that has failed middle-class families. It may be Groundhog Day, but the American people can’t afford a repeat of the same old top-down policies of the past.”

As the budget debate unfolds, WiLL is concerned about a potential worst case scenario where there is more money for the Pentagon and wars and less for all of the other investments our constituents and communities need.

Pie and Cake Too – War Spending Slush Fund

Lastly, let’s note that the Pentagon not only gets the biggest slice of the budget pie, it also has another indulgence. As they say, it gets to have its cake and eat it too. Spending for the “war spending slush fund” or Overseas Contingency Operations account is about $51 billion. This is money not subject to the budget caps. Plus, we’re seeing more and more things that used to be in the Pentagon’s budget migrate to this special fund – even if they have no direct connection to current combat efforts. By the way, this $51 billion in extra money for the Pentagon is more than some federal agencies’ entire budgets!

More Coming Soon:

We hope you’ll help us engage in the budget debate with our letter to Congress. The letter will be coming on February 9, and we encourage you to add your name to our urgent message!

WiLL will also be working to produce budget analysis – going deeper into issues like nuclear weapons, war spending, the brewing showdown between fiscal and defense hawks and more. We’re also working on budget pies and tools members across the country can use to talk about the budget and the need for budget priorities.


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