Pentagon asks for biggest budget hike since World War II

Besides its $515 billion request, the Defense Department wants another $70 billion to cover some of next year's war operations.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    President Bush (c.), held a laptop showing the electronic version of the fiscal 2009 Federal Budget during a meeting at the White House in Washington. The new budget has provoked controversy because of its proposals for higher military spending, deep cuts in social and infrastructure projects, and a prediction that the 2008 federal deficit would hit $410 billion at the end of this fiscal year - more than double the size of the 2007 deficit.
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The Pentagon is asking for more than $515 billion for fiscal 2009, the largest request ever, and a nearly 8 percent increase over the amount of money Congress awarded the Defense Department last year.

This request, adjusted for inflation, is the biggest since the end of World War II, analysts say, a symbolic move from an administration that often likens the war on terrorism and the commitment it believes the nation must make to the struggle against the Axis powers.

But the $515 billion is only the biggest piece of the Bush administration's request for fiscal year 2009. The White House is also asking for an additional $70 billion to cover war operations, just for the first portion of fiscal 2009, which begins in October.

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"As the administration acknowledges, its $70 billion request for war funding likely represents only a down payment on next year's war costs," says Steven Kosiak, a budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think tank in Washington. "This means that at some point, either this administration or the next administration will have to request additional war-related funding for FY 2009."

In asking for the $70 billion now, and not this fall, when the money would actually be needed, the request is an effort by the administration to anticipate how long such requests would take to get through Congress, defense officials have said. Officials lament that Congress has yet to act on a war-funding request made last year. Although about $80 billion was already passed last year, another $103 billion has not yet been appropriated.

But it is the $515 billion budget that will fund most nonwar defense activities. If approved, the request would include about $21 billion to grow the Marines and Army, provide a pay increase for service members of about 3.4 percent, and fund the US Africa Command, the Pentagon's new combatant command. The budget request would also fund a number of train-and-equip programs worldwide, to the tune of $500 million. With an eye on more conventional threats, the Pentagon increased its request for missile defense spending by about a half-billion dollars for a total of $10.6 billion.

Defense officials and senior officers have long argued that defense spending should at least represent 4 percent of the gross domestic product, or GDP, but this year's baseline budget request only represents about 3.4 percent – not counting additional war-funding requests.

In announcing the release of his budget, Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted that that is far less than defense spending of yesteryear, when the US spent 14 percent of its GDP during the Korean War and 9 percent during its engagement in Vietnam.

Secretary Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will testify on Capitol Hill on the budget later this week.

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