CBO: Projected rise in defense costs could bust budget caps

Spending on national defense could increase by 20 percent over the next 15 years, according to a report released Thursday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The CBO said that projected rise in defense spending would “significantly exceed” the funding set in current budget caps and could eventually trigger automatic sequester cuts. 

Between 2015 and 2030, the office projects the Defense Department’s current budget has the military on a path in which defense costs would increase by 1.2 percent each year. The average cost of these plans over that decade and a half would exceed the average amount spent on defense between 1980 and 2014, the CBO said.

The CBO used the Pentagon’s five-year plan, included in its 2015 budget request, to estimate the long-term implications.

Despite these projected spending increases, federal agencies are subjected to budget caps set in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA).

The White House’s $496 billion request for the Pentagon's base budget this year, fiscal 2015, falls within those caps. For fiscal years 2016 through 2021, however, the Pentagon could again face across-the-board cuts to its spending plans if those budget caps aren’t raised. 

“To remain in compliance with the BCA after 2015, DoD would have to make sharp additional cuts to the size of its forces, curtail the development and purchase of weapons, reduce the extent of its operations and training, or implement some combination of those three actions,” the CBO’s report said.

Under the CBO’s projections, the Pentagon is on a path that would result in the department spending about $47 billion more than the funding provided under limits set by the budget act. 

The office said the spending increases account for the military’s operations and support programs like compensation as well as for acquiring new weapon systems, munitions and other equipment.

Although the projections suggest an increase in spending over the next 15 years, the CBO cautioned that defense plans can always change based on the international events and other factors.