• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Stop the Presses: Putting Flashy Defense Spending Sound Bites in Context

    In a report titled, “Long-Term Implications of the Fiscal Year 2010 Defense Budget,” the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) points out that this year’s Department of Defense (DoD) budget will exceed the real dollar equivalent of the Pentagon’s budget at the time of the defense build-up in the 1980s. Specifically, CBO calculates that this year’s defense budget will total $664 billion, compared to roughly $500 billion in 1985 — an increase of one-third.

    This comparison is no surprise to Congress or the American people because the U.S. is currently fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 1985, a military build-up was required because the military had become a hollow force after Vietnam. A hollow force lacks the resources to do three critical tasks at once:

    • Provide trained and ready forces,
    • Support ongoing operations, and
    • Modernize its equipment and platforms.

    Out of necessity, the federal government increased defense spending in the 1980s to rebuild a military broken in the course of the Vietnam War and its aftermath.

    The key difference between 1985 defense spending and that of today is that the military was not engaged in any major contingency operations then, one of the three pillars of a balanced defense program.

    Defense spending today is higher because of ongoing combat operations that are a significant strain on the force. Spending is also higher because the U.S. military is simultaneously trying to recover from the “procurement holiday” of the 1990s. Throughout the ‘90s, Congress and the President cut the size of all three military services by one-third to one-half and reduced the purchase of modern equipment to match. As a result, defense spending dropped significantly in the 1990s to less than 3 percent of gross domestic product.

    Today’s Military is Doing More than Yesterday’s

    Any discussion about spending on today’s combat operations must examine the defense budget more closely. When the U.S. military is operating at a high operations tempo, as it is today, these wartime demands impose resource burdens on the operation and support accounts within the defense budget.

    These accounts—operations and support—primarily fund military pay and operations and maintenance activities. In the President’s fiscal year 2010 defense budget request, these accounts will roughly absorb nearly 65 percent of the DoD budget. Yet in 1985, these accounts absorbed roughly half, or 50 percent, of the defense budget.

    The wear and tear on military equipment during wartime is also straining resources and burning through equipment at rates five, six, and even seven times that of peacetime. To bring the military back in balance, weapons systems and platforms can either go through significant maintenance to restore them, or the military may seek to buy newer replacements with next-generation technology. This reset and recapitalization of military equipment is funded largely through the procurement account. However, today’s procurement funding accounts for a much smaller share of the defense budget than it did in 1985.

    The 2010 defense budget will allot less than one-fifth of its total to procurement funding. By comparison, in 1985 procurement absorbed over one-third of the DoD budget.

    The recovery from the procurement holiday of the 1990s was never fully achieved after 9/11 due to ongoing wartime requirements and the necessity of prioritizing funding for restoring weapons and equipment lost or damaged in combat.

    Defense Spending is Less than One-Fifth of the Federal Budget

    Finally, the defense budget should not be examined in isolation from the rest of the federal budget. If policymakers do not compare the increase in defense from the mid-1980s and current defense spending levels with other federal budget accounts, they may assume out of context that the defense budget is too large.

    The Medicare budget this fiscal year is currently estimated to be seven times what it was in 1985. Other health care funding is 11 times what is was in 1985. Social Security funds will likely be more than three times their 1985 levels. This explosion in other federal spending comes when the Administration is arguing the federal government is not spending enough on health care and is looking at significant tax increases to fund this additional spending.


    Instead of isolating one factoid for examination from a larger report, Congress should pay special attention to what CBO says about future defense spending. CBO analysis is not limited to comparisons between past defense budgets and 2010 defense spending.

    CBO projects that the average DoD budget for the period covering fiscal years 2011 through 2028 will be $50 billion less in real dollars than its current estimate for this fiscal year. This estimate includes the costs that the Congressional Budget Office calculates that the Obama Administration has not fully budgeted.

    The report estimates that future defense budgets will average $91 billion less annually in real dollars than for the current fiscal year when the Administration’s stated defense budget is submitted to Congress. In essence, CBO acknowledges that the Obama Administration is cutting the defense budget, both in real dollar terms and as a percent of the economy.

    Congress should not be intimidated by charges that defense budgets are excessive by historical standards. They are not when taken in context, and Congress should fight the defense budget reductions the CBO expects are coming from President Obama.

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    4 Responses to Stop the Presses: Putting Flashy Defense Spending Sound Bites in Context

    1. Anarchist says:

      Conservatives have their rationalizations. Liberals have their rationalizations. But they both agree that robbing taxpayers for what they think the government needs to spend money on is a good idea. Let's abolish the defense department completely and leave citizens' defense decisions up to them. That's called liberty and that's the American way.

    2. Not Anarchist says:

      A) You're asserting that any and all "rationalizations" are bad things, which is not the case.

      B) Conservatives and liberals are taxpayers too.

      C) Abolishing the defense department is a terrible idea, especially all at once.

      D) The citizens decided to continue to live in a country and put money into a national defense and voted in a government to make decisions because they had little things called "lives". That government uses the money to invest in weapons and soldiers to protect the taxpayer's life, freedom, and prosperity from those who wish to enslave or otherwise harm us. That's a willing investment by the American taxpayers in their own protection, because a national army does a better job of protecting the country than every single family trying to provide for their own defense.

      That's called Liberty and that's the American way.

    3. martyinaz says:

      As a Libertarian, I see things differently than Republicans and Democrats. While nearly EVERYTHING government provides could be better handled by private enterprise, a strong military is best provided by government. Yet, even our military relies on private enterprise to feed and supply it.

      How much should we spend? Enough to insure their total domination of our enemies. I don't want any other country to come here expecting to take over the USA. If Osama bin Ladin did not have this threat, he would not be hiding from us. Instead he would try and try again in every state. Without the threat of capture and hanging, anyone could do the same as bin Ladin.

      As for the enemyu combatants being tried on American soil, I favor the return of public hangings. Hang them in the middle of Time Square with the TV cameras running. Let them swing for a few days. After they are cut down, ship the bodies to any large Aligator farm for permanent disposal. I wonder how those 72 virgins will react to that bloody mess.

    4. Charles N.Y. says:

      Ridiculous.We have the technology to protect our country from right here at home, if need be. Our ONLY real threat is the middle east region and that is only because we are interfering with their way of life, protecting Israel and how they choose to run THEIR country. If we mind our own business and just worry about AMERICA they will have no reason to attack us, period. Why isn't any other country attacking us? The only reason we need their oil is because the left wing liberals and enviornmentalist lobbying lawyers are funded by OPEC to prevent us from drilling on our own land. We have trillions of gallons of untapped oil right under our feet in the U.S.A. but thanks to the corrupt greedy politicians,liberals,enviornmentalist and lawyers, we can't go and get it. It's all about the MONEY! Follow the money and you find the problem.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.