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Trump unveils $718B defense budget with 3.1% raise for troops

Paratroopers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division move to an assembly area February 1, 2019 on Fort Bragg’s Normandy Drop Zone. (U.S. Department of Defense/Released)
March 11, 2019

It’s budget week in the nation’s capital, and President Donald Trump unveiled a topline budget proposal that includes a $718 billion defense budget and a 3.1-percent raise for U.S. troops, as well as expanded branch budgets and funds that would create the Space Force.

The proposed national security budget is $750 billion – $34 billion more than the 2019 defense budget of roughly $716 billion. This is included in President Trump’s proposed $4.7 trillion federal budget for Fiscal Year 2020.

The Defense Department’s budget proposal includes a 3.1-percent pay raise for troops, which is in line with federal indicators, reported this week. If an appropriations bills funds this budget, it represents a 0.5-percent increase over Fiscal Year 2019’s 2.6-percent raise, which was the highest pay raise for troops since 2010.

The Pentagon specifically would receive $718 billion of the $750 billion for national security, which would include a $544 billion base budget, $165 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations and $9 billion in case of emergencies, according to various reports.

National defense spending is legally capped at $576 billion. The Trump Administration is expected to ask Congress to fund the additional $174 billion via the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, something that has sparked controversy in the past and that Democrats are likely to resist.

The defense budget increase is controlled by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which caps the annual appropriations bill. The expected $576 billion is the top limit of the increase for Fiscal Year 2020, which means that if the Trump Administration wants a $750 billion defense budget, the OCO must provide the rest. The OCO is exempt from spending caps. However, it has come to known as a “slush fund,” which has drawn criticism from those who say the OCO is now just a way to get around the spending cap.

It’s worth noting that a budget proposal is strictly a document – it is not an appropriations bill that must be approved by Congress and that actually funds the government or military; rather, it is essentially a “wish list” from the President, Pentagon and others.

Other details in the Pentagon’s budget request include eight F-15X fighter jets and a reduced 78 F-35 fighter jets for the Air Force; an Army budget of $190 billion, an increase of $8 billion from 2019; and $72 million to create the Space Force.

Additionally, there’s an increased research and development budget, at $104 billion; and a reduced Missile Defense Agency (MDA) budget of $9.5 billion.

President Trump also seeks $8.6 billion from Congress to build the southern border wall in his annual budget proposal. This is in addition to the $8 billion that Trump has already allocated to the wall since last month.

Congress passed a bill in February that allocated just $1.375 billion for border security and permitted fencing for 55 miles – far below the $5.7 billion figure that Trump originally requested.

After saying he would approve Congress’ appropriations bill that included the $1.375 billion, Trump also declared a national emergency in order to divert an additional $6.5 billion from other federal departments and direct it to southern border security — totaling roughly $8 billion for more than 200 miles of steel border barriers.

However, Democrats are fighting to overturn the national emergency declaration, leaving the fate of that wall funding in jeopardy.

Pentagon and military officials are expected to attend briefings on Capitol Hill this week to defend their budget proposals.