The Pentagon's Budget Is Not Bloated

With America facing a $1.4-trillion deficit, ideological opponents of a strong defense -- liberals and libertarians alike -- have called on the Congress to severely reduce the defense budget.

To try to justify their proposals, they make false claims about the defense budget, including its size and how it compares to the other items in the federal budget. However, none of these claims stand up to scrutiny.

For example, The Nation's Chief Editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel, the WaPo, and others claim that the annual defense budget is "over $700 billion." But the DOD's budget is actually $534 billion, which constitutes only 3.65% of GDP. The GDP of the United States, according to the CIA, is $14.61 trillion. The DOD's critics protest that this number doesn't include supplemental funding for the Iraqi war and the Afghan war, which reached $130 billion in FY2010. The "core" defense budget is used to maintain, pay, and equip the U.S. military.

And even with GWOT spending (130 billion) included, total FY2010 military spending amounts to only $664 billion, not the "over $700 billion" that liberals claim. Nor does Obama's proposed FY2011 defense budget reach that level -- it amounts to only $549 billion. America has never had a total military budget of "over $700 billion" or any similar figure. Not this fiscal year. Not ever. The claim that annual defense spending, or even total military spending, is "over $700 billion" is flat-out wrong.

During the past twenty fiscal years, defense budgets have been somewhat smaller than the current one. But even so, the claim made by the SF Chronicle and others that "core defense spending" has doubled since FY2001 is not true. The FY2001 DOD budget amounted to $291.1 billion in 2000 dollars, i.e. $368.82 billion in 2010's money using the DOL's inflation calculator. To double in nominal dollars, it would have to reach $582.2 billion; to double in real dollars, it would have to grow to $737.64 billion. But it hasn't reached either level -- it amounts to only $534 billion, and for FY2011, the president has proposed only $549 billion. Even total military spending has not reached $737.64 billion. So the claim that defense spending has doubled since FY2001 is factually incorrect.

The WaPo claims that defense is the largest discretionary item in the federal budget, while the SF Chronicle says it's the largest single part of the entire federal budget. Both of these claims are demonstrably false. Defense spending ($534 billion) is much smaller than federal welfare spending ($888 billion in FY2010, including the Medicaid program, or $638 billion without Medicaid), health care spending ($859 billion, again including Medicaid), and the Social Security program ($696 billion). But even if you count discretionary items, you will see that federal welfare spending (even excluding Medicaid) is much bigger than defense spending.

The defense budget is a small proportion of the total federal budget -- 14.87% out of $3.591 trillion. Even total military spending constitutes only 18.49% of federal spending. And 81.51% is purely civilian spending.

The WaPo claims that America is the "Globocop" and that the GWOT has cost the US $1 trillion by now. It has cited no source for that number -- probably because it has no source to back it up. The CBO says that the cost of the Iraqi war up to today has been $709 billion, over a period of eight fiscal years.

The claim that America is the Globocop is 100% false. The Bush administration intervened militarily only where it believed American interests were at stake -- in Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda is based, and Iraq, one of the world's largest oil reservoirs, situated in the world's most important region, the Middle East. Every normal country intervenes militarily where its interests are believed to be threatened, and America is no exception.

The WaPo and Vanden Heuvel would have us believe that "[i]t makes far more sense to cut an increasingly bloated Pentagon budget than to reduce much-needed investment in jobs, clean energy, transportation and support for state and local governments, all of which stimulate the economy much more efficiently and contribute more to our national recovery."

The truth is that governments cannot create jobs (every government-created job is financed by tax money from the private sector). Transportation is best managed by state and local governments (which have sufficient budgets for it, and America has the best highway network in the world); that way, the Congress would also ensure there would be no federal pork projects. Bailouts for state and local governments are bad as well as unconstitutional, reward irresponsible bureaucracies (such as those of California and New York), and contribute nothing to economic recovery. "Clean energy" is a joke, because wind turbines don't work when the wind doesn't blow, and solar panels don't work during nighttime. If the Congress wants "clean energy," it should let the private sector work.

And WaPo's proposal has revealed the fact that the opponents of defense spending don't want to balance the budget or reduce the deficit. They want to redirect taxpayers' money away from defense -- the government's #1 constitutional duty -- and toward tasks reserved to state and local governments. These tasks already receive 81.59% of annual federal spending.

The claim that the Pentagon's budget is "increasingly bloated" is completely untrue; as stated above, it constitutes only 3.65% of GDP and only 14.87% of the federal budget. It's hardly a big burden on the economy or the federal government. Moreover, with Russia, China, and North Korea and Venezuela arming heavily, and Iran pursuing nuclear weapons, reducing the DOD's budget is a ridiculous proposition.

So not a single claim of the WaPo, the Nation or other opponents of defense spending is true. Not one. The Congress should reject their claims and calls for defense spending cuts and tackle the real root cause of budget deficits: federal spending on tasks reserved to the states, localities, and the private sector.