President Donald Trump's defense budget is insufficient to begin substantially rebuilding the military as pledged on the 2016 campaign trail and merely represents a "more muscular status quo," according to a new report from the American Enterprise Institute.
Mackenzie Eaglen, senior defense-budget analyst at AEI, said the White House's requested $603 billion base budget repairs the detrimental effects of Obama-era spending cuts and budget uncertainty, but lacks the investment needed for modernization efforts to begin in 2018.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R., Texas) on Monday proposed a nearly $37 billion increase to the administration's baseline budget request in an effort to hire more troops and invest in modernization efforts. The move mirrors Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain's call for a $640 billion base Pentagon budget.
McCain has been critical of Trump's budget proposal, which represents less than a six percent increase over last year's defense funding and a mere three percent over the Obama administration's projected budget for 2018. The proposal falls markedly short of the president's pledge to produce one of the "greatest military build-ups" in American history.
"No honest observer would call this a ‘historic' increase," Eaglen wrote.
She went on to criticize the White House for too closely imitating the Obama administration's approach to the military budget, which favored the "conflicts of today and the wars of the distant future" while "shortchanging" the next three to 15 years, "wherein most strategic and military risk lies."
"President Trump's overall federal spending blueprint suggests that balancing the budget ranks above rebuilding the military in the administration's list of priorities," Eaglen wrote. "This should raise concerns about the president's commitment to rebuilding the military and his ability to deliver the legislative changes Congress will need to do so."
The report arrives as Congress prepares for a markup of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, set to begin Wednesday morning.
The House Budget Committee is considering a $621 billion defense budget to compromise with Republican defense hawks. Thornberry said last week he would be willing to lower his defense topline so long as the committee committed to providing a stable military budget beyond FY18.