WASHINGTON — The Pentagon unveiled a 2013 budget plan on Thursday that would cut the size of the U.S. military by eliminating nearly 100,000 ground troops, mothballing ships and trimming air squadrons in an effort to reduce spending by US$487 billion over the next decade. The funding request, which includes painful cuts that will be felt across the country, sets the stage for a new struggle between U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration and Congress over how much the Pentagon should spend on national security as the country ends a decade of war and tries to curb trillion-dollar budget deficits. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is previewing plans that will be detailed next month and has said he would ask for a US$525 billion base budget for the 2013 fiscal year, the first time since before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that the Pentagon has asked for less than the previous year. That compares with US$531 billion approved this year. Panetta said he would seek US$88.4 billion to support overseas combat operations, primarily in Afghanistan, down from US$115 billion in 2012 largely due to the end of the war in Iraq and the withdrawal of U.S. forces there at the end of last year. Congress ultimately controls the Pentagon’s purse strings and regularly intervenes to change the size and detail of military spending as it sees fit. The Defense Department’s budget accounts for about 20 percent of total federal spending. Republican lawmakers who oversee military affairs on Capitol Hill sharply criticized the plan.
More Cuts to Come? The 2013 budget is Panetta’s first as defense secretary and is the first to take into account the Budget Control Act passed by Congress in August that requires the Pentagon to cut US$487 billion in projected spending over the next decade. The budget plan does not take into account an additional US$600 billion in defense cuts that could be required after Congress failed to pass a compromise agreement to cut government spending by US$1.2 trillion. The Pentagon could face cuts of another US$50 billion a year, starting in 2013, unless Congress changes the law.