Pentagon listens for bigger budget promise in State of the Union speech

Pentagon listens for bigger budget promise in State of the Union speech

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence (behind the president) are shown meeting with Pentagon senior leaders, in a file photo. (Sgt. Amber Smith/Office of the Secretary of Defense)

WASHINGTON — In his first State of the Union message tonight, President Donald Trump is expected to reinforce his campaign promise to rebuild the military — boosting the Pentagon’s anticipation of a new budget that will pivot the services toward filling gaps and opening new doors.

Pentagon officials say they hope the president is clear in outlying the rationale for defense spending and are anticipating Congress may take the first steps to a robust budget this week in the aftermath of the speech.

The White House is expected to propose $716 billion for defense in its upcoming budget request to Congress. If approved — which is likely — and then funded, which is less likely since Congress has failed to pass a budget for nine years, it would be a major boost in funding for the military.

Trump campaigned on building up the military and tonight he plans to talk about the path to that goal — returning to a policy of peace through strength, clarity as to who are U.S. friends and adversaries, and his efforts to defeating terrorists around the world, senior administration officials indicated this past week.

Last year, Trump also emphasized to Congress his plans to boost military spending and readiness. Among his promises then was a pledge that “our military will be given the resources its brave warriors so richly deserve.” Tonight he also may be specific about threats from North Korea, Iran and terrorism, administration officials indicated, around a theme of “building a safe, strong and proud America,” they said.

The presidential guest list for the event has not yet been announced, but Trump is expected to include several military members among the invitees in an effort to underscore his defense remark, as he did last year.

For the coming year, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said the Pentagon wanted about 3 to 5 percent real growth above the 2 percent rate of inflation. The new $716 billion request would provide about a 7 percent boost over the president’s $668 billion request for the current year’s defense budget, though Congress has still not finalized the current budget.

Mattis is seeking more than $1.4 trillion over two years. That size of increase would help the Pentagon proceed on the due tracks of modernization and increased troop levels. Trump has said he wants a larger Navy fleet and a bigger Army.

Even if Trump supports the larger budget, the Pentagon may not get all that it seeks. Annual defense spending plans face budget caps: The $700 billion plan faces a $549 billion limit for 2018, which rises to $562 billion for 2019. Both efforts will require special legislative action to surpass caps.

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