President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the 2020 defense budget will likely drop to $700 billion in an effort to cut overall federal spending.
That’s slightly more than a 2 percent decrease from the $716 billion defense spending measure approved recently for the 2019 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. The drop would also reduce the Pentagon’s budget back to its 2018 fiscal year spending.
But at the same meeting with his Cabinet, Trump seemingly requested greater spending cuts from other federal agencies, directing his secretaries to cut 5 percent from their budgets for fiscal year 2020. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who is traveling in Asia, was not at the meeting.
“I’m going to ask each of you to come back with a 5 percent budget cut,” Trump told his secretaries in a meeting before White House reporters. “Get rid of the fat, get rid of the waste. And I’m sure you can do it.”
Trump has been under rising pressure to address increased spending under his administration.
This week, the Treasury Department revealed the U.S. deficit, which is the shortfall between federal revenue and spending, reached $779 billion in fiscal year 2018, a 17 percent increase from a year earlier. The deficit figure marks a six-year high.
Trump conceded tough decisions were made to increase defense spending in recent years.
In February, lawmakers reached a two-year, $1.4 trillion defense spending deal to lift budget caps to $700 billion for fiscal year 2018 and $716 billion for 2019.
“We had to fix our military. Our military is in the process of being fixed,” Trump said. “I made deals with the devil in order to get that done because we had to improve our military. Our military was depleted. It was in bad shape.”
However, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome before lawmakers can reach a spending plan deal on the next defense budget.
When lawmakers return for a new congressional session in January, they will first need to address spending caps that are slated to return in 2020 under the Budget Control Act, or BCA.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 installed spending limits for defense and non-defense spending until 2021. Though lawmakers lifted those spending caps for 2018 and 2019, those limits return for the 2020 fiscal year.
The spending cap is slated to decrease the defense budget to $576 billion for the 2020 fiscal year, if no action is taken. And if no deal is reached and budget caps are exceeded in the new fiscal year, it raises the threat of sequestration – automatic, across-the-board budget cuts.
Past cuts have had a degrading effect on the military, Pentagon officials, defense hawks on Capitol Hill and experts have said.
Trump on Wednesday noted the defense budget rose to $716 billion for 2019 with the addition of new ships and submarines, for example.
“We know what the budget, the new budget is for the Defense Department, it will probably be $700 billion,” the president said. “I brought it up to $700 (billion) and then $716 (billion) was to build new ships. We’re building new incredible submarines, the finest in the world, the most powerful in the world, anywhere, ever. We are doing things that we have never done on this scale, so that included a lot of rebuilding of our military. So despite that, I’m going to keep that” at a $700 billion defense budget.
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