President Donald J. Trump speaks to sailors at an all-hands call inside the hangar bay of the future USS Gerald R. Ford on March 2 during a visit to Newport News, Virginia. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Sheppard)
By Tracy Fuga
In his recent speech to the joint session of Congress, President Donald J. Trump said his proposed $603 billion defense budget is “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” The president asserts that funding the military at this level will keep Americans safe.
“Investing in the military means investing in peace — because the best way to prevent war, as George Washington said, is to be prepared for it,” Trump said during a recent tour of the aircraft carrier that will soon be commissioned as the USS Gerald R. Ford. “Most importantly, an investment in the military is an investment in the incredible men and women who serve our country in uniform. They are the best of us. They are the greatest force for peace and justice the world has ever known — and we will support them every single step of the way.”
In order to meet Trump’s goal of increasing military spending by about 10 percent or $54 billion, he has suggested cutting nonmilitary programs by the same amount. The commander in chief has promised to pursue offsetting cuts to foreign aid and diplomacy and a variety of federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the IRS. Final decisions about what cuts would be made (if any) to Medicare, Social Security, veterans’ benefits and law enforcement efforts will not be announced until later in the year, when Trump announces his full budget, according to aides to the president. However, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cited campaign commitments about protecting those programs and vowed that “(Trump’s) going to keep his word to the American people.”
White House officials said the outlines of the proposed spending plan represent the logical next step of the president’s efforts to make good on his campaign pledge to trim wasteful government spending while expanding what he considers an underfunded military. Under Trump’s plan, the Navy would grow from 274 ships to 350; the Army would receive an additional 60,000 soldiers; the Marines would have 36 battalions; and the Air Force would get approximately 100 additional combat aircraft.
Those who oppose the increase have pointed out that the U.S. already has the best-funded military in the world. The nation devotes more of its dollars to defense than the next seven military spenders combined, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The defense budget in 2015 was three times that of China’s and nine times the size of Russia’s. More than 100 three- and four-star generals and flag officers also voiced their concerns about cuts to the State Department and Foreign Affairs Budget.
“As Secretary James Mattis said while Commander of U.S. Central Command, ‘If you don't fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition,’ ” they wrote. “The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism — lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice and hopelessness.”
Gordon Adams, who oversaw defense budgets at the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration, said Trump’s proposed $603 billion defense budget is more symbolic than anything because it lacks key details.
“As to which part of the Goldilocks formula does it fit, there’s not really a good answer right now,” Adams said. “The content here is less important than the assertion that Trump is making that we have to be bigger, badder, tougher than the rest of world.”