Courtesy Reuters

Controlling the Defense Budget

When President Ford presented his 1976 defense budget to the Congress in January 1975, the Administration stressed the need to reverse what it described as a 10-year trend of declining U.S. military capabilities relative to those of the U.S.S.R. As a consequence, the President requested an appropriation of $105 billion for the Department of Defense, an increase of 15 percent over the previous year. About half of this increase was simply to offset the effect of inflation. The other half, however, was to fund the first-year costs of a continuing program to increase the size of conventional forces and to expand nuclear capabilities at a fairly rapid rate.

After an extensive review of the defense budget, the Congress in November 1975 reduced the request by approximately $7.5 billion on an annual basis, or in other words roughly the amount necessary to keep defense expenditures constant in real terms, that is, adjusted for inflation. These cuts, however, were applied in such a way as to trim a very large number of individual defense expenditure categories, while halting very few programs. Thus, consciously or not, the Congress, despite the cuts, continued to lend support to the Administration's plans to expand military forces.

Should these plans be carried out over the future, the defense budget in real terms would increase by more than four percent a year over the rest of this decade. By 1980 military spending would be about $115 billion in dollars of today's purchasing power, and still trending upward. Put another way, it now seems likely that military spending will continue to absorb about one-fourth of the total federal budget and roughly six percent of total national output for the indefinite future. And even this prospect depends on the international environment staying pretty much in its present fairly equable state. Should foreign relations take a sharp turn for the worse, requirements for defense spending could rise even more rapidly.

One would think that the nation would set off on such a course only after the

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