Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cut the deficit

Faster troop withdrawal may save $1 trillion

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Sep 3, 2009 19:43:23 EDT

A speedier withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan would shave $1.1 trillion off the budget in the next decade, a new congressional budget projection says.

That would be a sizeable cut in defense-related spending from 2010 through 2019, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates at $7.4 trillion.

The budget forecast, issued as Congress is about to return from a summer break and confront questions about budget priorities and deficit spending, says defense costs are uncertain because budget analysts cannot predict the number of deployed troops and the pace of operations.

The $7.4 trillion price tag is based on the number of deployed troops remaining at about 210,000, but looks at two scenarios for reductions:

• A sharp reduction in troops over three years, resulting in $1.1 trillion in savings. Under this projection, the number of deployed troops falls to 160,000 in 2010; to 100,000 in 2011; to 35,000 in 2012 and to 30,000 from 2013 to 2019.

• A more gradual decline that shaves $700 billion off the $7.4 trillion defense spending estimate. It assumes 210,000 deployed troops in 2010; 190,000 in 2011; 150,000 in 2012; 100,000 in 2013 and 75,000 in 2014 and beyond.

The report does not suggest what the money saved from the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan should be used for, but the Defense Department surely would make a bid to keep at least some of it to pay for unfunded weapons modernization programs.

The budget and economic update notes that Congress has allocated $944 billion so far for Iraq and Afghanistan operations — $849 billion in direct spending by the Defense Department, $51 billion for diplomatic efforts, $42 billion to aid Iraq and Afghanistan police and military forces and $2 billion to cover costs such as increases in veterans benefits and services.