Why does President Trump want to add $54 billion to the defense budget?

According to White House officials, the new federal budget will include almost a 10 percent increase in military spending while decreasing other domestic and foreign programs.

Susan Walsh/AP
President Trump (l.) listens as Defense Secretary James Mattis speaks at the Pentagon in Washington on Jan. 27, 2017. With Republicans in charge of Congress, President Trump has pledged to boost the Pentagon’s budget by 10 percent.

In a Monday morning telephone call with reporters, unnamed White House officials revealed that President Trump’s forthcoming federal budget plan will include a $54 billion increase – nearly 10 percent – in national defense spending. The Trump administration plans to offset elevated expense with large-scale cuts to foreign aid, as well as to yet-unspecified domestic agencies.

While specific details of Mr. Trump’s budget are scheduled to be further elucidated during his joint-session speech to Congress Tuesday night, the proposed budget changes carry the potential of drawing criticism from both sides of the aisle.

In a statement issued Monday, Trump reiterated some of his campaign rhetoric, saying that his focus on defense, law enforcement, and veteran support will serve to keep “America first,” something that previously had resonated with his target demographic.

“We are going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people,” Trump said Monday, according to The Washington Post. “We can do so much more with the money we spend,” he continued, carrying over a message from his Friday speech to conservative activists in which he promised "one of the greatest military buildups in American history.”

The proposed cuts, however, have already frustrated Congressional Democrats who feel their constituents’ needs are being ignored in the desire to boost the United States military.

“A $54 billion cut [to domestic programs] will do far-reaching and long-lasting damage to our ability to meet the needs of the American people and win the jobs of the future,” said Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the House and currently the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, according to Reuters. “The president is surrendering America’s leadership in innovation, education, science and clean energy.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York, the Senate’s Democratic leader, echoed her message. “It is clear from this budget blueprint that President Trump fully intends to break his promises to working families by taking a meat ax to programs that benefit the middle class,” said Senator Schumer, the Associated Press reported. “A cut this steep almost certainly means cuts to agencies that protect consumers from Wall Street excess and protect clean air and water.”

Should the budget proceed as proposed, domestic agencies will surely take a hit, especially those frequently targeted by the conservative Republicans currently in the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, however according to officials, it appears likely that the State Department and foreign aid spending might take the brunt of the budgetary curtailment.

At present, the federal government spends approximately $50 billion annually on the State Department and foreign aid and, according to one White House official, the State Department specifically could be facing a 30 percent reduction, which would mandate major systematic restructuring and elimination.

Trump, however, plans to use the military spending to bolster the US nuclear capacity while also dedicating funds toward developing infrastructure. 

“We've fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity,” he told Reuters. “And I am the first one that would like to see … nobody have nukes, but we’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country, we’re never going to fall behind on nuclear power.”

Fred Kaplan, writing for Slate last year, noted that former President Barack Obama had the largest military budget of this century. He writes:

Comparing the eight years of George W. Bush’s base budgets and the eight years of Obama’s ..., Obama’s exceed Bush’s by a sum total of $816.7 billion ($4,121.2 billion for Obama’s two terms, $3,304.5 for Bush’s).... What accounts for this huge increase? Mainly, it’s the higher cost of weapons systems, most of which were developed during and for the Cold War. 

Ultimately Trump’s budget must pass through Congressional approval, and yet to be seen is how the House and the Senate will respond. While his proposed military spending falls shy of the $640 billion mark sought by Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, the chairman of the Senate armed services committee, the proposed decrease in State Department spending has already received strong criticism from other former high-ranking members of the military.

On Monday, a group of more than 120 retired US generals and admirals sent a letter to Congress – including retired general and former CIA Director David Petraeus who was recently on Trump's short list for National Security Adviser – saying that “elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical to keeping America safe,” however, they continued “we know from our service in uniform that many of the crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone,” pressing Congress to continue fully funding the State Department and foreign aid.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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