Above is a chart compiled by Mercatus Center economist and policy
analyst Veronique de Rugy (also a Reason
columnist and a frequent co-author of mine). It breaks down
what the federal government spent on defense last year. It turns
out that when folks cite the base budget of the Department of
Defense, they’re only talking about a bit more than half of all tax
dollars spent on defense.
This chart puts into perspective the amount of spending that is
not being accounted for in widely cited figures by the Pentagon
(DOD) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Using data
calculated by Winslow Wheeler of the Project
on Government Oversight, line items from other areas of the
federal budget relevant to defense and security issues are added to
the FY 2012 base. The findings suggest that reported defense
spending figures underestimate the overall cost of defense and
national security programs by up to $400 billion in FY 2012.
Read more here.So when you add up all the various parts of the budget that go
toward defense, security, and related issues, you’re much closer to
the $1 trillion mark than the half-trillion number that gets
bandied about in sequestration discussions.If it’s tricky to figure out the total amount
of money spent on defense, it’s still pretty damn clear that the
United States can withstand planned sequestration cuts without
leaving the nation open to attacks by Islamic death cultists,
Chinese nationals, a resurgent Russia, or what-have-you.
Sequestration will takean estimated $55 billion out of the DOD
base figure above (nobody is actually certain of the final amounts,
but it will be around 9 percent of the base budget). That
possibility is enough to get Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to
“I’m ashamed of the Congress, I’m ashamed of the president, and
I’m ashamed of being in this body, quite frankly,” said Sen.
Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), an Air Force Reservist who has been
working for months to develop a bipartisan plan to protect the
“How do you go to somebody in the military who’s been deployed
four or five times . . . and say, ‘For your good work over the last
decade, we’re going to ruin the military; we’re going to make it
harder for you to have the equipment you need to fight, and we’re
going to reduce benefits to your family?’ ” he said.
As a starting point for a therapy session, Graham
might want to train his fire on a foreign policy that has led
to soldiers being deployed again and again for a decade-plus in two
misconceived and poorly executed wars that are ending with
whimpers. And he might want to kick the ass of his Senate
colleagues, who have not managed to pass a budget since April 2009.
That failure to accomplish the most-basic of tasks not just once
but three years running is the reason we’re even talking about
automatic spending cuts (that have, unsurprisingly, been pushed
back from when they were supposed to kick in). The failure to pass
budgets begat the 2011 debt-limit deal which begat the failed
spending super-committee which begat sequestration.Graham never seems to be in a situation where he has to
respond to the most obvious question for him and other folks who
think that the Great God Defense Spending should never be cut, even
after a decade-plus of growth. Inflation-adjusted military spending
no less than 71 percent between 2001 and 2010 alone. If
the country can’t cut it by 9 percent now, with two major wars
ending, then we have given up all possibility of ever changing the
trajectory of our spending patterns.Oh, and here’s something else that might make
Graham cranky: Voters are totally happy to cut defense spending. As
pollster Scott Rasmussen reported in
Reason’s October 2012 issue, fully 67 percent of Americans want
to see cutting across-the-board in every federal budget. The U.S.
spends about $2,500 per capita for national security while most of
our NATO allies spend 20 percent of that amount (Rasmussen noted
that less than half of Americans think we should still be in NATO).
Voters may not have figured those costs to the penny, but they
intuit that the U.S. can ease off a bit on military spending
without too much worry.But sadly, even if sequestration comes to pass, Graham won’t
have to wait long for defense spending to start cranking up again.
Here’s another chart de Rugy put together. It shows the effect of
sequestration under various scenarios related to the base Defense
budget, war spending, caps subject to the Budget Control Act of
2011 (which gave us sequestration as a backup plan if Congress
couldn’t agree to spending cuts under normal circumstances).
Read the whole explanation here, but the short version is this:
It’ll be a year or two before military spending is back to where it
was and, in fact, is back on its blue-sky path yet again, soaring
upwards toward the heavens where nobody ever gets burned by flying
too close to the sun. Or something like that.
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