House budget would increase defense spending

Obama's Pentagon cuts are not what they seem By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- While the House Republicans' 2011 budget calls for less in defense spending than originally proposed by President Obama, it would actually increase defense spending relative to last year.

But it's the comparison to the president's request that is the GOP's preferred benchmark.

"We held no program harmless from our spending cuts, and virtually no area of government escaped this process unscathed," said House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers in a statement.

As a practical matter, though, the impact of the proposals is easiest to grasp when compared with 2010 funding levels, which are in effect until March 4.

By that measure, defense would not be hit by the $60 billion in spending cuts passed by the House before dawn on Saturday.

In fact, the defense budget would increase to $533 billion, up from $526 billion currently.

That doesn't count the money that will be spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the money spent on defense-related activities through other agencies, said Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who served as assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan.

The House bill does take a tough stance on one major defense item -- it eliminates funding to build an alternative engine for the F-35 Fighter jet. However, it is a cut relative only to many lawmakers' desires rather than to any request from the Pentagon or the president, Korb said.

Still, the F-35 engine cut is seen as a victory for those who want to eliminate wasteful defense spending.

"The Pentagon has said repeatedly they do not want it and do not need it, and the American taxpayers certainly cannot afford it," said the amendment's sponsor, Rep. Thomas Rooney of Florida, in a statement.

While the House Republicans' bill wouldn't actually reduce the Pentagon's budget, the inclusion of defense-related measures may be significant all the same.

Their original plan was to exclude defense altogether from its roster of spending cuts. But in the quest to meet demands for steeper funding reductions from the party's newest and most conservative members, the House GOP put their once sacred cow in line for consideration along with everything else.

"You've got to give Republicans credit for putting everything on the table and the new guys for voting against that [F-35] engine," Korb said.

That could help open the door for lawmakers to discuss real defense cuts when they start making decisions about how to control the growth in long-term debt.

Korb notes that in the past 10 years, defense spending has accounted for two-thirds of the growth in discretionary spending. Moreover, the United States now spends six times more than China, which ranks No. 2 on the list of big military spenders.

Of course, just how much the government ends up spending on defense for the rest of this year is a big question mark, since the House bill is not expected to pass the Senate in its current form. To top of page

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