Every year, when TCS is opining about the budget or major legislation, we will write about the devil being in the details. In this particular case, the devil’s in the footnote.
Specifically, in the Summary Tables, Table S-7 is titled “Proposed Discretionary Funding Levels in 2021 Budget”. And if you look at the Defense portion, specifically the Overseas Contingency Operations line, you see OCO dropping from $69 billion this year to $20 billion in FY22 and FY23. In FY24 and beyond, OCO is slated to be $10 billion each year. That’s pretty fantastical, if you know the history of OCO. But, sharp eyes noticed the footnote “Proposed Base Changes” which reveals the plan to shovel huge increases to Pentagon “base” spending starting in FY22 ($51 billion), FY23 ($50 billion), FY24 ($59 billion), FY25 ($58 billion), FY26 ($40 billion), FY27 ($22 billion) and tailing off in FY28 ($2 billion).
These numbers would have you believe the Trump Administration thinks Pentagon spending will be flat at $808 billion from FY25 to FY30. We’re skeptical. And of course FY2025 would be the last budget proposal of the Trump presidency (if he wins a second term).
On the one hand, as a budget watchdog group, we strongly believe the Pentagon budget should be subject to an honest national debate about security priorities and how much we can afford to spend on them. So, to the extent that the huge slush fund known as OCO (off-budget but definitely not off-deficit!) could dwindle to $10 billion a year, we’re for it. We’re hopeful that not being able to hide behind off-budget financing for the Pentagon will force such a debate. But, as above, we’re skeptical.