Josh Rogin of CQ does a great job fleshing out some of the budget-backstory between the Defense Dept. and the Office of Management and Budget that I alluded to in this post. Basically, OMB told the Pentagon late last week that it wasn’t going to accept the fiscal 2010 budget request, written during the final hours of the Bush administration, as it came in a bloated $60 billion over the previous’ year’s tab. OMB — whose defense-spending office is headed by a sharp defense wonk named Steven Kosiak — told the Pentagon that it had to cap spending at $527 billion (excluding war costs!), which represents an 8 percent budget increase over the fiscal 2009.

But, Rogin reports, that’s where the chicanery lies!

Defense budget experts have said the draft by the Joint Chiefs, which was never publicly released, was designed to pressure the Obama administration to drastically increase defense spending or be forced to defend a reluctance to do so. Defense officials in past outgoing administrations have left inflated budget estimates for incoming officials in the hope of raising the spending baseline. In fact, the draft budget was never scrubbed by Bush’s OMB, which had told federal agencies to submit draft budgets based on “current services.”

Here’s where it helps to have Bob Gates impose some discipline. Getting eight percent more, outside the costs of the wars (!), during a time of global economic distress is, you know, really generous. An OMB official told Rogin that the Bush-drafted request was a "wish list" for conceivable defense spending — a classy little sayonara to the incoming Obama team — not a realistic budget. Gates has been telling everyone he can that the budget is coming down, hard choices are going to have to be made, and people are going to have to stop whining and reconcile themselves to this new reality. So it’ll be interesting to see if he starts with this budgetary gem.

But! I hear that he may send OMB a letter objecting to the $527 billion (outside of the wars!) ceiling. I’m trying to learn more about that now. Could it be that despite the resource-shift talk, Gates doesn’t mind a little budgetary good-cop-bad-cop?

Crossposted to The Streak.