Republicans and White House Push for Major Increases in Military Spending in 2016 Budget

Posted March 25, 2015

MP3 Interview with Lindsay Koshgarian, research director at the National Priorities Project, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


As the budget process works its way through the federal government, President Obama's proposed budget – as well as the Republican House and Senate proposals – all increase military spending, some more drastically than others. Meanwhile, domestic spending stands to take a big hit, especially in the House proposal. The House Budget Committee has proposed dramatic domestic spending cuts similar to those put forward last year by 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. (The only budget that differs significantly is that of the Congressional Progressive Caucus that is the subject of another interview in this week’s program.)

The House and Senate are due to vote before the end of March on their respective budgets, which then must be reconciled before they can pass 12 separate appropriations bills to send to the president. But there’s disagreement between fiscal conservatives, calling for spending cuts and defense hawks, seeking more money for the Pentagon. President Barack Obama is expected to veto any reconciliation bill that reaches his desk, setting up the need for continuing budget resolutions – and the threat of a government shutdown this Fall.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Lindsay Koshgarian, research director with the National Priorities Project based in western Massachussetts. Here, she explains the loophole that allows for big increases in military expenditures despite spending caps imposed by sequestration, and points to the budget proposal most in keeping with what Americans say their priorities are.

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: You asked about the sequestration spending levels. The president's Pentagon proposal and military spending proposal overall broke those limits, so under current law, it would result in sequestration, which is the across the board, blind spending slashes that no one really wants to see, that no one really believes is good policy. But the president has proposed getting rid of those caps, so he could spend higher, and in fact proposed a $534 billion base budget for the Pentagon, which would be the highest base budget that the Pentagon has ever had in our history. Now on top of that, he has also proposed $51 billion in war funding for the Pentagon. And that is money that is not subject to the budget caps. It's money that's sort of off the books, and it's been a way the the president and Congress have sidestepped the spending caps on the defense side for the past several years.

BETWEEN THE LINES: When you say war budget, with wars in so many places, what is that for? What does it cover?

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: So, it's a specific fund. Its official name is Overseas Contingency Operations. And it was established really, to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war in Iraq has largely wound down, the war in Afghanistan is supposed to be winding down this year, but the budget has stayed high, partly because the Pentagon has been using those funds to fill in gaps where it couldn't get funds in its base budget. So, while the president has proposed $51 billion in that fund for 2016, the House has proposed up to $90 billion and the Senate proposed $58 billion. So all of them are using this fund as a way to get around the caps on spending that would apply to the Pentagon's base budget. They're very big amounts of money; a calculation was done that if this war fund were its own government agency, it would be about the fifth biggest government agency.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, what would the impact of this part of the budget be on the rest of the budget? We're cutting other things, right?

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Well, one thing that's happening is that the caps were supposed to relate both to defense and non-defense spending. Now, the non-defense portion of the caps are still very much in play, and have been in place over the last few years, because there's no non-defense version of this war fund. There's no off-the-books fund for domestic spending that's not for the Pentagon. So, yes, domestic spending is definitely suffering by comparison, although the extent to which that is true is very different among the different budgets. The president's budget would propose an additional $178 billion over ten years in domestic spending, and like I mentioned before, he proposes getting rid of those caps. The House and Senate budgets both would not only keep the caps in place for domestic spending that's not for the Pentagon, but they would actually cut that spending even more. The House would cut that by an additional $759 billion over the next ten years.

BETWEEN THE LINES: The Republicans always want to cut taxes. Are they cutting taxes, cutting social programs and increasing Pentagon spending all at the same time?

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: They are proposing that, although what's interesting about the House and Senate proposals – unlike the president's proposal, which is very detailed in its tax proposals – the House and Senate proposals are very light on details. So they both call for overhaul of the tax code, but they don't say exactly what they would do, or even come close. You know, it has a lot of things in common with the Ryan budget, in terms of cutting spending drastically for a lot of domestic programs and not really replacing them with anything else. And Americans say they want spending on these domestic programs. When you look at polling, they want the president and Congress to do something about jobs and the economy; they want the president and Congress to do something about education. They want spending on these programs.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And climate issues, too, right? I've read polls that show a majority of Americans would be willing to spend more on reining in climate chaos.

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: Yes, I've seen some interesting polling lately that not only do people believe climate change is real, but they want the government to do something about it.

BETWEEN THE LINES: It's a lot to keep track of, with all these numbers and all these budgets.

LINDSAY KOSHGARIAN: In our competing visions analysis we have on our website, we look at four different budgets: The president's, the House budget, the Senate's budget and the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget. And we also looked at them compared to polling of what Americans say they want the government to do. And when you stack those things up and look at which budget seems to best match the priorities Americans say they have for the government – things like prioritizing jobs and the economy, education, Social Security – the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget actually seems to be the best match for what Americans say they want.

For more information on the National Priorities Project, visit

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