Debate Club

Defense Spending Not to Blame for Deficit

By SHARE

Cutting defense spending is not necessary to reduce the federal budget deficit and the national debt. Focusing on defense ignores the central causes of growing deficits and debt: lower tax revenues and expanding entitlement programs.

There is no doubt that the defense budget grew rapidly over the past decade. Between 1990 and 2010, outlays for Department of Defense and Department of Energy nuclear weapons activities grew by more than 130 percent, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Much of that growth supported operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Between 2001 and 2010, Congress provided over $1 trillion in contingency operations funds. However, current plans are to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, and from Afghanistan through 2014. Thus, defense spending will significantly decline from the 2010 peak.

[See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.]

But for the goal of containing deficit spending, the defense budget—and, indeed, all discretionary programs—is a distraction. The real task is to contain growth in healthcare and entitlement spending, and to increase federal revenue.

Health and Entitlement Spending: Federal outlays grew by over $2.2 trillion between 1990 and 2010. Over one third of this growth came from Social Security and Medicare. (By contrast, defense accounted for less than 18 percent of this growth.) But what makes these programs truly daunting is their rate of growth over the next decade. OMB projects that the Social Security and Medicare programs will grow by more than 80 percent between 2010 and 2021.

Other federal healthcare programs, whether for Medicaid, veterans, or retired federal employees, are subject to the same growth dynamic.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit]

Whether it is by raising the retirement age, indexing benefits to income level, or some other means, these are the portions of the budget that must be contained to curb the explosion in outlays.

Taxes: On the opposite side of the ledger, federal revenue has declined significantly. In 2010, federal receipts dropped to less than 15 percent of gross domestic product, the lowest level since 1950, according to OMB. (The average level since 1980 is 18 percent.) This decline has been prompted by two factors: the Bush tax cuts of the early 2000s, and the recent period of recession and slow economic growth.

Reasonable people can debate the appropriate level of defense spending. There may be efficiencies to be gained in an agency as sprawling as DoD. But the solution to our growing fiscal peril simply lies elsewhere.

Doug Berenson

About Doug Berenson Director of the Defense & Aerospace Group at Avascent Group

Tags
deficit and national debt
defense spending

Other Arguments

#1
88 Pts
Cutting Military Spending Does Not Mean Cutting Defense

Yes – Cutting Military Spending Does Not Mean Cutting Defense

Ron Paul U.S. Representative and Republican Candidate for President

#2
49 Pts
Cutting Back on Defense Spending Will Make the World Safer

Yes – Cutting Back on Defense Spending Will Make the World Safer

Patrick Takahashi Director Emeritus at the University of Hawaii

#3
27 Pts
Cuts to Defense Budget Might Be Inevitable, but Pentagon Knows Best

Yes – Cuts to Defense Budget Might Be Inevitable, but Pentagon Knows Best

Travis Sharp Bacevich Fellow at the Center for a New American Security

#4
12 Pts
Reasonable Ways to Cut Defense Budget

Yes – Reasonable Ways to Cut Defense Budget

Lawrence J. Korb Former Assistant Secretary of Defense

#5
-2 Pts
Deficit Is Greatest Security Threat

Yes – Deficit Is Greatest Security Threat

Kori Schake Bradley Professor of International Security Studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

#7
-6 Pts
It Is Time for Discipline, Defense

Yes – It Is Time for Discipline, Defense

Gordon Adams Professor at American University

#8
-23 Pts
Cutting Defense Spending Is Short-sighted

No – Cutting Defense Spending Is Short-sighted

J. Randy Forbes U.S. Representative and Chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee

#9
-31 Pts
Military Already Underfunded, Thanks to Obama

No – Military Already Underfunded, Thanks to Obama

Mackenzie Eaglen Fellow at the Heritage Foundation

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