WASHINGTON — Even as the Obama administration on Monday rolled out its budget for 2012, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was dueling with Congress over military spending for this year, saying the Pentagon cannot do its job with cuts of more than $9 billion.
Gates said restrictions on spending “may soon turn into a crisis” for the military, as Congress, deadlocked over the politics of passing a federal budget for 2011, placed the government on a “continuing resolution” that has limited Pentagon spending since last autumn.
If that stopgap budget stays in place for the entire fiscal year, it would result in military spending of $526 billion, not counting the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or a cut of $23 billion from the administration’s request of $549 billion. Gates demanded that Congress approve 2011 spending of at least $540 billion.
“Suggestions to cut defense by this or that large number have largely become exercises in simple math, divorced from serious considerations of capabilities, risk, and the level of resources needed to protect this country’s security and vital interests around the world,” Gates said in a Pentagon news conference.
Congressional leaders now say they plan to attach a full military appropriations bill to the continuing resolution that would finance the rest of the government. While that bill would impose cuts of $16 billion, this at least could allow the Pentagon to award new contracts and shift some money around among programs.
But Congress could make some of these allocations, and Gates said that despite the Pentagon’s reservations, he would continue money for an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter until Congress acted. The bill being drafted, for example, could include $450 million to keep the engine project alive. Pentagon officials have estimated that it could cost $2 billion to $3 billion to finish developing the engine, which Gates and President Barack Obama say the military cannot afford.
For next year, the Pentagon is requesting $670.6 billion for the 2012 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. That includes $553 billion for its base budget and $117.8 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As a result, the total of $693 billion in 2010 might have represented the peak for the surge in military spending that began after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And congressional leaders say that new members from the Tea Party movement may try to cut military spending even more.
The biggest cuts for next year would come in the war budget with most of the troops returning from Iraq. The overseas spending would drop by $41.4 billion from the $159.3 billion that the administration proposed for 2011, and it would fall to the lowest level since 2006.