According to multiple reports, President Barack Obama will announce a “spending freeze” in his State of the Union tomorrow night. While we definitely have our doubts about the efficacy and reality of these proposed cuts, what there is no doubt about is that President Obama’s past Defense budget was entirely inadequate to protect our nation.
The Congressional Budget Office correctly notes that total inflation adjusted Defense spending “exceeds the peak of about $500 billion (in 2010 dollars) during the height of the Reagan Administration’s military buildup in the mid-1980s.” However, our economy is a lot larger today than it was then. In GDP terms we are actually spending a lot less on defense than we were in the 80s.
In a Stimson Center guest blog last week, Heritage fellow Mackenzie Eaglen explained why Obama’s nominal defense increases actually fall far short of what is needed to protect our nation:
While many expect a minimal topline increase for defense spending again in FY 2011 (one to two percent real growth), this modest bump is still insufficient to pay all the Pentagon bills. … The critical takeaway is that a flat defense budget topline is really a declining defense budget. That is because the cost of doing everything in the military–from paying people to buying new equipment–greatly outpaces inflation every year.
Eaglen later quotes Brookings Institution scholar Michael O’Hanlon
For the Defense Department to merely tread water, a good rule of thumb is that its inflation-adjusted budget must grow about 2 percent a year (roughly $10 billion annually, each and every year). Simply put, the costs of holding on to good people, providing them with health care and other benefits, keeping equipment functional, maintaining training regimes, and buying increasingly complex equipment tend to grow faster than inflation.