As Congress and the public focus on more than $600 billion already approved in supplemental budgets to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for counterterrorism operations, the Bush administration has with little notice reached a landmark in military spending.
When the Pentagon on Monday unveils its proposed 2009 budget of $515.4 billion, annual military spending, when adjusted for inflation, will have reached its highest level since World War II.
That new Defense Department budget proposal, which is to pay for the standard operations of the Pentagon and the military but does not include supplemental spending on the war efforts or on nuclear weapons, is an increase in real terms of about 5 percent over last year.
Since coming to office, the administration has increased baseline military spending by 30 percent over all, a figure sure to be noted in the coming budget battles as the American economy seems headed downward and government social spending is strained, especially by health-care costs.
Still, the nation's economy has grown faster than the level of military spending, and even the current huge Pentagon budgets for regular operations and the war efforts consume a smaller portion of the nation's gross domestic product than in previous conflicts.
About 14 percent of the national economy was spent on the military during the Korean War, and about 9 percent during the conflict in Vietnam. By comparison, when the base Pentagon budget, nuclear weapons and supplemental war costs are combined, they total just over 4 percent of the current economy, according to budget experts. The base Pentagon spending alone is about 3.4 percent of gross domestic product.
"The Bush administration's 2009 defense request follows the continuously ascending path of military outlays the president embraced at the beginning of his tenure," said Loren Thompson, a budget and procurement expert at the Lexington Institute, a policy research center. "However, the 2009 request may be the peak for defense spending."
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