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OBAMA'S BUDGET: DEFENSE

Pentagon request would curb growth in total military spending

The proposal would boost Army and Marine ranks and mental health offerings. War costs would decline slightly.

February 27, 2009|Julian E. Barnes

An eight-year run of rapidly escalating defense costs appears to be coming to an end.

The base defense budget is to grow 4%, to $533.7 billion from $513 billion.

A separate war-funding bill for Afghanistan and Iraq will ask for $130 billion for next year, down about 8% from the $141.4 billion projected for this year. (About $66 billion of the current year's war costs have been approved by Congress; the administration said Thursday that an additional $75.5 billion would be needed.)

Among the budget priorities are increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps, as well as improving mental health efforts amid an increase in suicides among enlisted personnel.

Adding the base budget and war-funding measure, the total request will rise to $663.7 billion next year, from $654.4 billion this year.

"In our country's current economic circumstances, I believe that represents a strong commitment to our security," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said.

Defense officials cautioned that the base budget numbers were not directly comparable.

The proposed budget contains some costs -- such as funding to counter roadside bombs and expand the military -- that were previously part of war-funding bills.

President Obama is expected to unveil his plan today for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq by next year.

Nonetheless, war costs are expected to drop only slightly.

"The modesty of that decline does not surprise me," said Winslow T. Wheeler, a budget expert at the Center for Defense Information, an independent policy research institute in Washington.

"So far, Obama has not done anything but move people from Iraq to Afghanistan."

-- Julian E. Barnes

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