Pentagon unveils $496B budget request

The Pentagon would spend more on training and maintenance while still making deep cuts elsewhere if it receives an additional $26 billion that President Obama is requesting for the military's 2015 budget.

As part of a $56 billion investment fund the Obama administration included in its 2015 budget, the boosted military funding exceeds the spending caps passed by Congress last year.

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The $26 billion in the president’s “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative” is one of many controversial aspects of the Pentagon’s $495.5 billion 2015 budget request that was officially released on Tuesday.

The proposed budget would reduce the size of the active-duty Army to roughly 450,000, the lowest level since before World War II. It would slash benefits like healthcare co-pays and housing subsidies for service members and include a new round of base closures. And the budget would retire the fleets of the A-10 “Warthog” U-2 manned spy plane fleets, while reducing operations for the 11 Navy cruisers.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel previewed the most contentious aspects of the budget proposal last week, defending the cuts as the best path forward amid the sequester reductions and the end of the war in Afghanistan.

“This is the first time in 13 years we will be presenting a budget to the Congress of the United States that’s not a war-footing budget,” Hagel said at a briefing last week.

Lawmakers quickly panned many of the cuts that Hagel outlined, however, setting the stage for a major budget fight in Congress.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and other lawmakers partial to the A-10 have vowed to stop the Air Force from cutting the aircraft, while defense hawks have slammed the force structure reductions during a time of growing threats.

Veterans groups and their backers on Capitol Hill were upset at the benefit cuts, which Congress has also prevented in years past.

House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a statement Tuesday that he shared "the broad dismay about the shrinking might of the military reflected in this budget."

"We must resist the president’s compulsion to continually trade national security for financial responsibility, while getting neither," McKeon said.

But he also knocked his fellow Republicans for not pushing back and providing the military with more money.

"If we don't like the tough choices on the table, then shame on us as Republicans for following the president down this path," McKeon said.

Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will be defending their budget before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees later this week.

The Pentagon’s $495.6 billion 2015 budget is the first proposal that attempts to put military spending levels under the spending caps set out by sequestration.

The Pentagon received $9 billion in relief from the sequester cuts thanks to the December 2013 budget deal, but its 2015 budget request is still $45 billion below what it had proposed last year.

The budget is $400 million less than what Congress appropriated in the 2014 fiscal year.

Todd Harrison, a budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said 2015’s budget adjusted for inflation takes funding back to 2007 levels.

Compared to 2014, the 2015 budget cuts procurement accounts by $2 billion, military personnel by $731 million and military construction by $3 billion. It includes $5.9 billion more for operations and maintenance accounts, and $727 million in increases to research and development funding.

The request doesn’t fully adhere to the budget ceilings, however, thanks to the $26 billion in the investment fund, which is also tied to domestic funding increases in the president’s budget.

The fund is meant to “spur economic progress, promote opportunity, and strengthen national security,” according to a Pentagon overview.

Along with providing more money for training, fuel, spare parts and transportation, the $26 billion fund is meant to help generate jobs through increased maintenance at military depots and military construction, the Pentagon said.

The administration faces an uphill climb to enact the extra discretionary funding into law. Republicans aren’t likely to agree to the additional spending beyond the carefully negotiated budget deal that was agreed to last December.

The Pentagon’s budget also busts the sequester spending caps beginning in 2016, and it includes $115 billion in spending above the ceilings from 2016 through 2019.

If sequester is not averted next year, Pentagon officials have warned they will have to make additional cuts, such as the early retirement of one of the Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers.

The Pentagon’s budget will also include funding for the wars overseas, though the amount is still to be determined as the size of U.S. operations in Afghanistan after 2014 is still unclear.

The 2015 budget is using a placeholder figure of $79.4 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, which is the same amount it requested last year but below the $85 billion Congress ultimately appropriated.

Congress may also eye increases this year even as U.S. troops draw down because that money is not subject to the sequester spending caps.

— This story was updated at 12:17 p.m.

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