Military spending expected to rise 7%

Proposed budget exceeds level at peak of Cold War

Iraq not included in costs

January 24, 2004|By Esther Schrader | Esther Schrader,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration wants to boost military spending by 7 percent to nearly $402 billion in fiscal 2005, the Pentagon said yesterday.

That would take the defense budget to levels exceeding those at the height of the Cold War. The increase is needed to help pay for a raft of costly weapons and programs bolstered by the Washington's response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

But the proposed budget does not include the costs of continuing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which for two years have largely been funded through large supplemental spending bills.

The administration is expected to make a request later in the year - most likely after the November presidential election - for an additional $50 billion or more to pay for those military operations.

The $401.7 billion request is in line with what the Pentagon a year ago projected it would seek as part of a long-range plan to boost military spending to $484 billion annually by 2009. It does not include defense programs funded by the Energy Department, expected to cost about $20 billion in 2005.

Although public support for the war on terrorism has been key to securing annual spending increases, defense analysts said, programs such as fighter jets, warships and missile defense have reaped the benefits.

"When you listen to the rhetoric coming from the Pentagon, one might get the impression that all the increases in spending since 9/11 have been closely related to waging the war on terrorism. But clearly this has not been the case," said Steven Kosiak, director of budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a nonpartisan defense think tank.

The Pentagon is not expected to release a complete breakdown of the spending request until Friday, but said it includes more money for intelligence, homeland defense and readiness and training.

Defense officials said privately that the budget will include higher spending on unmanned spy planes and robotic technologies considered the vanguard of fighting terrorists and other emerging threats. It will keep funds flowing to two new multibillion-dollar jet fighter programs, and also is expected to further increase spending on missile defense testing and deployment - a program that grew by more than $9 billion last year.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a statement yesterday that the budget reflects the need to retrain troops and to provide the pay, benefits and other quality-of-life measures necessary to recruit and retain volunteers for both active and reserve forces. The long deployments faced by reserve and National Guard troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have raised fears of a major exodus when enlistments are up.

"This budget builds upon past work to provide for a ready force made up of the talents and skills needed in our new national security environment," Rumsfeld said.

With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, lawmakers are likely to look favorably on the Pentagon request. And in the Democratic presidential campaign, only Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has talked of cutting the defense budget.

Stephen Daggett, a defense analyst for the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, said the requested 2005 budget increase of $20 billion is not particularly big - and that about half of that is needed just to keep up with inflation.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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