Benjamin H. Friedman
Security, North America
The Trump administration wants Congress to add $ 5.9 billion in “emergency” spending to the Pentagon’s 2018 budget. Except there isn’t really an emergency.
The Trump administration wants Congress to add $ 5.9 billion in “emergency” spending to the Pentagon’s 2018 budget. Most of the request would go toward boosting funding for missile defense in the name of stopping North Korean missiles. Smaller slices would pay to add troops to the war in Afghanistan and to repair two Navy ships damaged in accidents. To these requests, Congress should demand offsets.
While the increase in defense spending might be popular in Congress, designating the funds as “emergency” requirements would exempt the money from budget caps Congress imposed on itself in 2011 to control the nation’s burgeoning debt—now at $ 20 trillion.
That means that instead of forcing tradeoffs among Pentagon programs, the measure becomes a slush fund that soaks future taxpayers. Worse, by using the emergency designation for activities that aren’t truly related to war or emergencies, the request threatens to destroy the cap and open fiscal floodgates. Doing so while cutting taxes could make the current national debt look mild.
$ 4 billion of the request would go to missile defense for new interceptors for the three major U.S. systems—Ground-Based Midcourse Defense, AEGIS, and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)—plus various related surveillance and intercept capabilities. $ 700 million of the request would repair two Navy ships damaged in accidents last summer: the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald. $ 1.2 billion would fund the administration’s 3,500 troop increase in Afghanistan.
Missile defense funding, naval repairs, and increased troop numbers abroad are the normal, everyday responsibilities of the Pentagon—not sudden emergencies.