The Pentagon was given marching orders last month for some cause or event for celebration after President Trump resurrected his interest in a national military parade in the capital.
Officials were weighing whether to connect the parade to some existing patriotic event such as Veterans Day in November, which also happens to be the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. But the president and his administration may have just been handed another reason for celebration.
The two-year budget deal unveiled last week on Capitol Hill was not exactly the sweeping U.S. victory in the 1991 Gulf War, which led to the country’s last national military parade, but it was a big win for Trump’s promise of a defense buildup.
Trump has worked since he was a candidate to cast his plans for the military in grand historic terms, literally promising his massive budget request would lead to “one of the greatest military buildups in American history” during a CPAC speech a year ago.
“We're going to build it stronger than it ever was before. We've already started,” the president said last week during a rally-style speech in Ohio.
Now, the new two-year budget deal puts those promises within reach for the first time, and just as the administration begins work on Trump’s proposal to showcase the military with the first national parade in nearly 27 years.
It could be “raining cash in Washington” with proposed defense and nondefense hikes that dwarf two past budget deals combined, according to Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow and defense budget analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.
The budget deal in Congress obliterates Budget Control Act caps on defense spending and would clear the way for total defense spending of $700 billion this year and $716 billion next year.
After years of heavy legislative lifting by defense hawks such as Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the Pentagon is now in line to start modernizing and growing its forces in the direction of Trump’s promised buildup, which could include increasing the Army from 476,000 to 540,000 active-duty troops and the Navy fleet from 280 to 355 ships.
The legislation “brings our military into the 21st century,” according to House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Even so, there would be little historic precedent to celebrate the budget win and coming military buildup as part of a national parade, Brian McAllister Linn, a history professor at Texas A&M University.
“The military parades have always been to have a victory parade or to cheer on the local units as part of the Fourth of July or something,” Linn said. “I don’t know of a parade that wasn’t tied to another event like an inauguration, or was done to sell a budget.”
Presidential inaugurations are more political events and have featured more military involvement, he said. For example, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953 featured a 280-millimeter atomic cannon, as well as 65 musical units, 350 horses, three elephants, and an Alaskan dog team, according to the Eisenhower Foundation.
“If the president wants to build up the armed forces, he’ll often have a very strong military theme in the inauguration. This [Trump parade] itself is pretty unprecedented,” Linn said.
The parade has drawn mixed reactions even among some Republicans.
“Oh, I don’t know that it’s necessary. I guess my reaction is anytime you can show appreciation and admiration to the men and women who serve in the military, that’s a good thing,” said Thornberry, who is the House Armed Services chairman. “But the best way to show it is to support this budget and make sure they have planes that fly and ships that sail and have the training they need for the missions.”
Meanwhile, Democrats on Capitol Hill called it a waste and a distraction. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, described it as “what authoritarian regimes do, not democracies.”
For now, Congress must still fulfill the two-year budget deal by passing funding legislation and the administration has not settled on any particular parade messaging.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that “nothing has been decided or locked in stone,” and many different options were under consideration.
“This is in the early discussion phases, and it's something the president is looking at – not just a way that he can, but that the entire country can come together and show support and honor our military,” Sanders said.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the parade idea was based on the president’s “affection and respect” for the armed forces.
“We've been putting together some options,” Mattis said. “We'll send them up to the White House for a decision.”