Target-Rich Environment

We’re all for flood-the-zone coverage of the budget, so a tip of The Audit’s green eyeshade to The Wall Street Journal, which unfurls the story in full glory, with charts, breakdowns, analysis for individual federal departments and agencies, plus, for no extra charge, a handy Q & A on what it all means for taxpayers.

The package is here.

The politics analysis is here.

Bloomberg also goes big and includes a look at U.S. companies that would see their taxes go up if the blueprint is approved and implications for municipal bonds.

And far be it from me to scoff at any opportunity to ogle the, um, photogenic director of the Office of Management and Budget (insert wolf whistle here).

But lost in the shuffle, I’m afraid, is the jaw-dropping number that Obama is requesting for the Defense Department next year: $708 billion.

That’s seven oh eight. Billion. Cash money.

I know, I know. The defense budget is Washington’s version of Groundhog Day. Year in and year out, pork barrel politics make it impossible for the Pentagon to cut programs that the Pentagon itself doesn’t want or need. Apparently, people outside of Washington think this is strange.

And this year, as The New York Times tells it, even defense contractors are surprised by the budget gusher.

“The defense industry is pleased but bemused,” said Loren Thompson, the chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute, a policy group financed partly by military contractors. “It’s been telling itself for years that when the Democrats got control it would be bad news for weapons programs. But the spending keeps going on.”

This isn’t exactly Mother Jones talking here.

The Times and others devote the usual attention to the fate of individual, big-ticket programs. And that’s fine. For today.

Slate’s Fred Kaplan brings some healthy skepticism to the broader defense spending numbers.

The Pentagon released its budget for fiscal year 2011 this afternoon, and it is enormous—much larger, even adjusting for inflation, than any budget since World War II. What’s more, some numbers buried within the budget suggest that it’s set to grow larger still in the coming years—to a greater extent than the White House or the Defense Department acknowledges.

But may we humbly suggest that today’s budget release mark not the end of reporting on defense spending, but the beginning? I mean, from a journalism point of view, this is what military types would call a target-rich environment.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has already made clear that she disagrees with Obama’s decision to exempt military spending from his proposed budget freeze.

“I don’t think that we have to protect military contractors, and I want to make that distinction very clearly,” Ms. Pelosi said. “I do not think the entire defense budget should be exempted.”

Sounds like a potential source to us.

Another might the Secretary of Defense, last seen canning the Marine general in charge of the F-35 and rebuking the contractor, Lockheed Martin, which is clearly reeling, as the Times reports:

In a statement issued late Monday, Lockheed Martin said it had been working with military officials “on a plan to get the program back on track” and was “committed to stabilizing F-35 cost, affordability and to fielding the aircraft on time.”

He’s almost inviting reporters in for a look around.

The president may have taken defense spending off the table, for all sorts of reasons, some having nothing to do with sound risk-assessment, prudent budgeting, and competent administration. But that doesn’t mean the press has to go along with it.

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Holly Yeager is CJR's Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy. She is based in Washington and reachable at