Pentagon expects smaller budget in 2012

Defense officials expect “increasing pressure” in coming months to trim the Pentagon’s $553 billion 2012 spending request, driven in part by an expected cut to its 2011 budget.

Hours after the House Appropriations Committee unveiled a $515 billion 2011 defense spending measure, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley acknowledged Tuesday that “a smaller baseline for 2011” will affect how much lawmakers give the Pentagon in 2012.

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“We are going to have some work to do this summer,” Donley said.

Defense officials “hope the 2011 budget” — which could be approved as soon as this week — “will help Congress know more about what 2012 will look like,” Donley said during a breakfast sponsored by the Center for Media and Security.

The House Appropriations Committee on Monday provided a major clue to the size of the Pentagon’s 2011 budget when it unveiled a $515 billion defense spending measure that could be approved this week along with a one-week stopgap for the rest of the federal government.

The appropriators are proposing a 2.9 percent cut from the Pentagon’s base budget request of $549 billion for 2011. 

The House panel’s proposal would be a setback for Gates, who had pushed for $540 billion.

Since last October, the Defense Department — like other federal entities — has been funded at 2010 levels. In a statement, the Appropriations Committee noted its proposed 2011 defense budget would be a 1.5 percent increase over the 2010 funding level.

“This common-sense funding level strikes a balance between the need for valid reductions and the requirements of our military without jeopardizing our national defense or the protection of our troops,” the committee statement said. 

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), the House Armed Services Committee chairman, told reporters Monday that House leaders have “promised” him they will bring a full-year 2011 Pentagon spending bill to the floor.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R- Wis.) on Tuesday rolled out his much-anticipated 2012 federal budget, which proposes a $553 billion Pentagon budget. That is the same amount requested by the Obama administration.

“This budget rejects proposals to make deep, across-the-board cuts in funding for national defense,” states Ryan’s budget. “Instead, it reflects the $178 billion in savings identified by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.” Around $78 billion of those “savings” was used by the administration for deficit-reduction efforts.

There are increasing signs that the House and Senate will soon send a full 2011 Pentagon spending bill to President Obama, sources say. 

But it’s not yet a done deal. That leaves Pentagon officials trying to prepare for a government shutdown.

Gates told lawmakers last week that his legal advisers have told him the U.S. military would continue to receive funding for the conflicts in which it is engaged.

Donley on Tuesday told reporters that Air Force and Pentagon officials continue internal deliberations about how they would handle a shutdown. 

Under discussion are questions such as just what is an essential employee. Officials also are exploring “what to do with ... civilian and military personnel,” Donley said.