Obama's defense budget faces harsh political realities

The Pentagon laid out a budget plan Wednesday that would hold military spending steady next year but ignores harsh political realities that are likely to force steep cuts in defense funding.

President Barack Obama proposed a $526.6 billion base budget for the military in fiscal year 2014, which would keep defense spending at about the same level as in 2013.

But the Pentagon's spending blueprint, which calls for investments in new aircraft, ships and other weapons, could turn out to be merely a wish list given the bitter political stalemate gripping Washington.

The Defense Department's budget request leaves out the cost of the war in Afghanistan, which is projected to surpass $80 billion in the current fiscal year, as well as looming automatic budget cuts.

The proposed Pentagon budget amounts to more than $51 billion above spending caps imposed under a 2011 "budget control" law designed to rein in government deficits.

If lawmakers fail to forge a compromise on spending and taxes, the Defense Department (DoD) will have to cut the $51 billion due to the automatic spending reductions known as "sequestration."

The political gridlock in Congress has produced chronic financial uncertainty for US commanders, who are warning that combat readiness is in jeopardy.

"Moving from one crisis to the next without resolution of the underlying issues has created a fog bank of uncertainty for defense planners," according to Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

"Unless the two sides (political parties) can come together on a deficit reduction deal ... a deal that has eluded them for nearly two years -- it seems likely that DoD will see its budget cut to $475 billion in FY 2014 through the blunt, indiscriminate mechanism of sequestration," he wrote in a report this month.