Trump: DOD's budget will 'probably be' $700B next year

By Tony Bertuca  
October 17, 2018 at 12:51 PM

(Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include additional comments from the president and defense budget analysts.)

President Trump said today the Defense Department's budget in fiscal year 2020 will "probably be $700 billion," a potential cut of approximately 2.3 percent, though he said other departments will be asked to make 5 percent cuts.

"We know what the new budget is for the Defense Department; it will probably be $700 billion," he said during a televised cabinet meeting. "That's a very substantial number, but it's defense."

Prior to his cabinet meeting statement about defense, the president told reporters he was going to ask "every secretary" in his cabinet to cut 5 percent of their budgets and gave no indication DOD would be exempt.

The total U.S. defense budget is $716 billion for FY-19 and was $700 billion in FY-18 as part of a bipartisan deal to lift statutory spending caps.

Trump said the two-year deal that helped "rebuild" the military required higher non-defense spending he does not support, resulting in large omnibus spending bills.

"I had to give the Democrats -- I call it 'waste money,' things that I would never have approved, but we had to do that in order to get the votes because we don't have enough Republican votes," Trump said. "We're going to be asking for a 5 percent cut from every secretary today."

Trump's statements come as the the federal deficit, driven by non-discretionary spending on social programs and a massive, GOP-backed tax cut, soared to a six-year high of $779 billion at the end of FY-18.

Meanwhile, Trump's comments stoked confusion among defense analysts, who said they're not exactly sure what Trump is referencing, noting that a $700 billion topline for just DOD would be consistent with the department's projections, while a total defense topline -- which includes other non-DOD spending, like nuclear weapons work at the Energy Department -- would be a decrease in overall spending.

“It is not clear if he is talking about total national defense, which is at $716 billion now and was projected to go to $733 billion in FY-20, or if he means total DOD, which is $686 billion now and was projected to go to $701 billion in FY-20,” said Todd Harrison, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mark Cancian, also an analyst at CSIS, said he believed the $700 billion topline would be for DOD and consistent with the department's projections of $681 billion for base spending and $20 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations account for a total of $701 billion.

That projection, however, assumes a $50 billion transfer of OCO money into the base budget, which would break statutory budget caps. Cancian said it is more likely DOD's FY-20 budget will be around $631 billion in base defense spending and $70 billion in OCO, because the latter account is exempt from caps.