President calls for cuts to defense spending in budget request for 2013

President Obama’s budget request for the Pentagon cuts America's military budget in absolute terms for the first time in more than a decade.

The cuts come from both war spending and the department's base budget and include a reduction in armed forces and the cancelation of several weapons programs.

The 2013 total defense budget is $614 billion, which includes $525 billion for the base budget and $88 billion in overseas contingency operations (OCO) funding. Together, that’s a reduction of $32 billion from the 2012 budget: $5 billion from the base and $27 billion from war spending with the end of the Iraq war and drawdown in Afghanistan.

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The cuts were expected and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta previewed them in a press conference at the end of January. But they became official with the release of Obama's 2013 budget blueprint on Monday.

The Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee criticized the proposal, saying it reduces resources for the military while redirecting them “to exploding domestic bureaucracies.”

“It irresponsibly ignores the looming threat of sequestration, while failing to adequately address threats posed by our adversaries around the world,” Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a statement. “It asks the men and women in uniform who have given so much already to give that much more, so that the President might fund programs the American people don’t want and can’t afford.”

Next year's budget includes reducing forces by more than 100,000 across the services, which will save about $50 billion, and the canceling of several weapons programs, all part of the Pentagon’s plan to cut $259 billion over the next five years.

"This budget plan represents a historic shift to the future, recognizing that we are at a strategic point after a decade of war," Panetta said in a statement announcing the proposal.

The budget is the first request from the president to account for a $487 billion cut in defense spending over the next decade, although it does not account for the potential of another $500 billion in automatic cuts through sequestration that would hit January 2013.

It reflects a strategy shift announced by Obama last month that placed a new focus on the Asia-Pacific region and dropped the military’s doctrine to be prepared for two wars at once, instead emphasizing an “agile” armed forces.

As part of the shift, the 2013 budget includes $10. 4 billion for Special Operations forces, $3.7 billion for unmanned drones, $300 million to fund the next-generation bomber and $3.4 billion for cyber operations.

But critics of the president’s proposal say the budget doesn’t do enough to actually shift the military’s resources.

Mackenzie Eaglen, an analyst at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said the new budget constitutes a “paper pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region.

“This budget will shrink the size of the U.S. Navy and Air Force even though the emphasis on Asia is supposedly one of air and naval power,” she said. “The President is proposing to retire massive numbers of ships and aircraft before the end of their service lives at a time when numbers matter because the demand for U.S. presence abroad is not declining.”

The Pentagon said terminations in weapons programs would save $9.6 billion. The Navy is proposing to eliminate seven cruisers and two dock landing ships, and the Air Force is planning to reduce its fleet by 303 aircraft. Among the biggest programs getting the axe is the Global Hawk Block 30 drone, and the Air Force is cutting 65 C-130 cargo aircraft and 38 C-27 planes.

The Pentagon says it would save $15.1 billion on the F-35 fighter, its biggest weapons program, by delaying the plane’s development. Reductions in the Navy’s shipbuilding program would save $13.1 billion.

The budget includes a reduction of 7.4 percent in funds for procurement and research and development, which total $178 billion for 2013.

Defenders of the president’s proposal said the budget maintains the military’s strength while reflecting the cuts that were mandated in the August debt-limit deal between the president and Congress.

“We can rationally evaluate our national security strategy, our defense expenditures, and the current set of missions we ask the military to undertake and come up with a strategy that enhances national security by spending taxpayer dollars more wisely and effectively,” said House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.). “I believe this budget meets that goal.”

But even some of the president’s supporters are not happy about the inclusion of two new rounds of base closures in 2013 and 2015 included in the budget. Members of both parties objected to more base closures when Panetta announced it last month.

Military personnel and benefits are also being cut. The Pentagon proposes a savings of $29 billion over the next five years by increases in TRICARE enrollment fees and creating an enrollment fee for TRICARE-For-Life and slowing pay raises after 2014.

The budget achieves some savings by moving nearly $4 billion in military personnel costs from the base budget — which must abide by the spending caps — to the OCO budget, which is a supplemental budget.

The budget places additional forces above the end strength levels set in the budget, which Panetta said would occur over the next five years, as “temporary end strength.”

For 2013, that includes nearly 50,000 Army troops and 15,000 Marines at a cost of $6.1 billion.

While the Army is bearing the brunt of the troop reductions, its base budget is at $135 billion for 2013, which is actually up $1.5 billion from 2012. But the Army’s OCO budget is being cut $17 billion, 26 percent less than in 2012.

Overall, the Army budget is cut by 8.3 percent, the Navy 1 percent and the Air Force 4.6 percent.

Nearly one quarter of the total savings in the first five years was found through “efficiencies.” The Pentagon said it could save $60 billion through these efficiencies, which include $18.5 billion from the Army, $5.7 billion from the Navy and $6.6 billion from the Air Force.

The efficiencies also include $10.4 billion in savings by reducing civilian pay raises, and the Pentagon plans to cut the civilian workforce by 1 percent.

The president’s budget also takes savings from the reduction in OCO costs and puts it toward infrastructure funding.

Beginning on Tuesday, Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will testify at three congressional hearings in three days to defend the budget request.

— This story was updated at 2:08 p.m.