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So How Big 'is' The Defense Budget?

In Slate, Fred Kaplan argues that the FY2008 military budget submitted by President Bush yesterday comes out to $739 billion, once all the accounting gimmicks are factored in. Adjusted for inflation, "that's about one-third higher than the previous record for military spending, set in 1952, when more than 30,000 American soldiers were dying in the Korean War and the Pentagon was embarking on its massive Cold War rearmament drive."

If I'm not mistaken, though, the Defense Department will likely end up asking for even more money than Kaplan figures. After all, the administration asked for a supplemental of $142 billion to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Pentagon comptroller Tina Jonas admitted that that request was put together before the new "surge" plan was announced. "I think we know that it will be wrong," Jonas said. "Obviously... conditions will change and we'll have to adjust at that point." (On the other hand, as Kaplan points out, it is nice that the Pentagon is no longer obscuring this cost by asking for the supplemental money in the middle of the year.)

Moreover, White House spokesman Tony Fratto has been insisting that the reduced size of the supplemental request for 2008--it's $28 billion less than what's being spent this year--shouldn't be interpreted as a sign that there will be troop reductions in Iraq. So the $142 billion number may have been lowballed to begin with. All told, according to Winslow Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information, the military budget will probably come to around $800 billion for the coming year--if not higher. (It will certainly explode even further in the coming years, what with the cost of health care for wounded vets.)

Congress probably isn't much inclined to bring this figure down dramatically, but if anyone's interested, Kaplan has a few suggestions for extraneous weapons programs that could stand to get chopped, while Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives argues that the proposal to expand the Army and Marine Corps end strength by 92,000 personnel is probably unnecessary.

--Bradford Plumer