Trump Has Already Abandoned His Half-Hearted Attempt to Cut Military Spending

Now he wants to spend even more!

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Mike Langish/Cal Sport Media/Newscom

Well, you knew that wasn't going to last.

Less than a week after calling the Pentagon's $716 billion budget "crazy" and indicating that he wanted to trim it, President Donald Trump is reportedly proposing to push America's military spending to greater heights. After a meeting with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Republican congressional leaders last week, Politico reports, Trump told Mattis to submit a $750 billion budget request for next year—well in excess of the $733 billion level that had been previously planned.

Trump had, of course, championed an $82 billion spending increase for the Pentagon earlier this year, as part of a two-year budget agreement that boosted funding for both Republican and Democratic priorities while further inflating the federal deficit. But after celebrating his role in getting record-setting military spending through Congress—(here's how he described the negotiations: "It was not very hard. I went to Congress, I said, 'Let's do it, we gotta do it'")—the commander-in-chief seemed to have second thoughts.

Facing news of a growing budget deficit, Trump abruptly told all his cabinet secretaries in mid-October to plan for 5 percent budget cuts in the next year. He seemed to double down on his newfound willingness to cut military spending with a tweet posted shortly after his return from the G20 summit in Argentina:

Crazy, indeed. American military spending has lapped the rest of the world several times over. To put the Pentagon's $82 billion funding increase in perspective, consider that Russia's entire military budget totals only $61 billion. China, which boast the next most expensive military in the world after the United States, plans to spend about $175 billion this year—less than a quarter of what the U.S. spends.

But Trump's new outlook didn't last the week. Mattis, several top generals, and the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Forced Committee were dispatched to the White House last week to meet with the president and talk him down. It's a good thing we have so many knowledgeable insiders to stop Trump from doing something crazy, right?

When push came to shove, Trump was apparently a pushover. As Politico tells it, the president ended up negotiating against himself by the end of the meeting. "There was a discussion with POTUS about how to get $733 billion, and POTUS suggested that if the position is $733 billion, then we should submit a budget at $750 billion as a negotiating tactic," an anonymous source told the publication.

Of course, Trump changes his mind about policy about as often as he changes suits, so there's every possibility that he'll swing back towards the idea of cutting the Pentagon's budget in a week or two. For now, though, the whole incident looks like yet another example of Trump being willing to follow the advice of whoever was the last person to talk to him.

That's a shame, because the president's instinctive reaction to America's mounting budget deficit—cut spending!—is essentially the right one. Especially at the Pentagon, where top officials are given an annual budget larger than Switzerland's GDP but don't seem to have much of an interest in keeping track of where all that money ends up. An attempted audit of the Department of Defense (DoD) ended in mid-November with the conclusion that it was impossible to finish the audit because of accounting gaps and poor record keeping.

"We failed the audit," Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters. "We never expected to pass it." But he does expect American taxpayers to just keep flushing money into the Pentagon, right?

Just getting an audit done was something of an accomplishment—and something the Pentagon fought hard to prevent. As The Nation detailed in a deeply reported piece last month, the Defense Department has been deliberately misleading Congress for years about its spending habits, something that could happen because there's no independent oversight of the Pentagon's books. "For decades, the DoD's leaders and accountants have been perpetrating a gigantic, unconstitutional accounting fraud, deliberately cooking the books to mislead the Congress and drive the DoD's budgets ever higher, regardless of military necessity," writes Dave Lindorff. "DoD has literally been making up numbers in its annual financial reports to Congress—representing trillions of dollars' worth of seemingly nonexistent transactions—knowing that Congress would rely on those misleading reports when deciding how much money to give the DoD the following year, according to government records and interviews with current and former DoD officials, congressional sources, and independent experts."

Is it any wonder, then, that buckets of American tax dollars ended up funding Saudi Arabia's brutal war in Yemen? "Errors in accounting" is how a Pentagon spokesman explained it to The Atlantic, which last week uncovered the previously unknown spending.

If the past three weeks haven't brought enough evidence that the Pentagon requires more budgetary scrutiny and significant belt-tightening, there's years worth of evidence indicating the same.

It was always pretty unlikely that Trump would be serious about cutting the military's budget—or doing much of anything that would be considered fiscally conservative—but it's still remarkable just how easily Pentagon officials spun the president toward handing over even more money to the federal government's most expensive and least accountable department.

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25 responses to “Trump Has Already Abandoned His Half-Hearted Attempt to Cut Military Spending

  1. So no context of military budgets, because TDS?
    Decades: 1990s 2000s 2010s
    Years: 96 97 98 99 00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15

    Def Budget($B) 266 270 271 292 304 335 362 456 491 506 556 625 696 698 721 717 681 610 614 637
    Total Budget($T)1.58 1.64 1.69 1.78 1.82 1.96 2.09 2.27 2.41 2.58 2.78 2.86 3.32 4.08 3.48 3.51 3.58 3.48 3.64 3.97

    Defense Spending (% Change) -0.1 +1.6 +0.2 +7.8 +4.0 +10.1 +8.2 +26.0 +7.6 +3.1 +10.0 +12.5 +11.3 +0.2 +3.4 -0.6 -5.0 -10.5 +0.6 +3.8
    Military budget USA

    1. Shortly after taking office, President Donald Trump added $15 billion to former President Barack Obama’s FY 2017 budget, and he proposed a FY 2018 budget of $639 billion. This represented an increase of $56 billion, or 10 percent, over the proposed FY 2017 budget.

      As part of the recent deal to keep the government open, Congress agreed to increase the FY 2018 defense budget to $700 billion?an increase of $108 billion, or 18 percent, above the proposed 2017 budget?and the FY 2019 budget to $716 billion. This means that since Trump took office, the defense budget will have grown by $133 billion, or 23 percent.
      Defense budget under Trump

      Trump gets blamed by propagandists if he proposes cuts or increases to the defense budget .

      1. The Trumptardation is strong in you today.

      2. He deserves the criticism because it’s a corner he painted himself into.

        He can’t cut military spending, because he just spent years lying about how the military got weak and depleted under O. A joke of course, as basically every Prez/congress gives the pentagon every cent they want and often more (O was no exception to this, to my dismay), and the military is always an excessively massive expenditure. So ya, you can’t shit talk the previous guy saying he fucked the military by not giving them anything (which again by the numbers is laughable) and then cut their budget without getting some shit.

        Similarly, you can’t run on being the guy who was going to wave a wand to balance the budget/reduce the defecit with your business powers and art of the deal, and come in and blow an even bigger hole in the budget.

        1. Boy, if you consider the military to be an excessively massive expenditure I eagerly await your tirade on entitlement spending since it makes the military budget look quaint.

          1. Surely you oppose the amount of spending on both.

            1. I do not, I merely note that those who are outraged purely on defense spending don’t really care about spending.

              1. I see. So you’re just another Republican.

                1. Republicans don’t seem to care about any spending, RE: a 1900 mile long wall, so maybe you’re stuck in a time loop where Republicans give fucks about spending?

                  Last I checked, as a simple example, the ethanol subsidies are not ‘military spending’ are they?

          2. Ya I do consider it to be one, it is.

            And ya, I do consider entitlement spending to be a problem. A bigger problem. Because it is.

            Go find anything I have posted bitching about spending, I constantly say the out of control entitlement spending needs to be reigned in (cut medicare/medicaid, end SS ASAP) and cut the military spending. I have never varied from that. I don’t want to pay for anymore bullshit endless wars, invasions, or your retirement, or your healthcare.

            It’s almost as if you’re just another R who has the knee-jerk reaction of “but entitlements!” the second anyone wants to touch the military, because you see it as an attack on your tribe so you have to fire back at “the left”. Well guess what, fuck the left and their our of control spending right with the GOP.

            This is a libertarian website, ya?

        2. The US military is weaker than it has been in a long time.

          There is a severe shortage of spare parts, for everything from tanks and MRAPs to F-22s.
          There is a shortage of weaponry – stocks of Hellfires, guided artillery, and guided bombs are far lower than expected.
          There is a shortage of training materiel. Troops are performing less training with their equipment, because of the expense of replacing the used fuel, parts, and ammunition.

          On top of all that, much of the expensive stuff – ships, tanks, helicopters, planes – is getting old. There are bombers, flying missions, whose airframes are more than 50 years old. There are tanks in their 40s.

          Fixing up the US military would take a LOT of money. And that’s just replacing what they currently have – not including any crazy expensive projects life the F-35, or the Zumwalts. To keep an effective military, it’ll need to be spent someday.

          1. The US government spends more on its budget than the next 9 countries combined give or take, depending on the year.

            If the US doesn’t have enough spare parts, then they are funding the wrong shit. My Daughter has the same problem- “dad, I need a higher allowance. I don’t have enough money for school lunch.” “Maybe you need to stop going to Starbucks after school each day?”

            1. “My Daughter has the same problem- “dad, I need a higher allowance. I don’t have enough money for school lunch.” “Maybe you need to stop going to Starbucks after school each day?””

              Well said, exactly what I was thinking. I had to decide not to get a lambo so I could remodel my kitchen and bathrooms. Maybe next year they can do with one less of those $100,000,000 F-35s and replace some of their hellfires or update old equipment.

    2. Go back to Moscow, loveconstitution1789.

  2. That $21 Trillion accounting error will cover military spending for the next 28 years.

  3. “Errors in accounting” is how a Pentagon spokesman explained it

    Perfectly understandable — accounting is *hard*!

  4. loveconstitution1789|12.10.18 @ 1:41PM|#

    Reason still hates that despite what they say, Trump has accomplished one of the most Libertarian-ish administrations in 100 years.

  5. Spending more money than you have is always a good idea.
    Every democrat or republican will tell you that.
    After all, spending money you don’t have worked in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc so it should work out well here in America too.

    1. “After all, spending money you don’t have worked in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc?”

      But the money they did have wasn’t worth anything and all you good buy with it was Eastern Bloc crap.

    2. “After all, spending money you don’t have worked in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc?”

      But the money they did have wasn’t worth anything and all you could buy with it was Eastern Bloc crap.

      Curse you missing edit option.

    3. I get that this is tongue in cheek, but it’s actually true.

      Spending more money than you have is great for the politicians. The problems it creates allows them to justify their government role, and in the meantime they get to live better than any past king ever lived.

      It worked in the Soviet Union, the Eastern Block, and it works in America too.

      It doesn’t last forever, but politicians don’t live forever either so they can afford to pursue non-sustainable strategies.

  6. This, and the missile strikes on Syria last April are very inconsistent with his original non-interventionalist platform.

  7. And then whatever happened to Mexico paying for the Stupid Wall?
    His Adulation, enamoring, and Fascinations with the Military are typical of a Draft-Dodger. And that’s what he is a DRAFT-DODGER like Clinton. The difference is that Clinton was never Enamored and Fascinated with the Military like Trump is.
    Tariffs, trade wars, the Wall, and Military over-spending are all very Stupid thingy things to do.

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