March 24, 2010 | Factsheet on National Security and Defense, Terrorism

The Obama Defense Budget: Inadequate and Unbalanced

Defense Spending Must Account for Future Threats

  •  The World Is Still a Dangerous Place: Though the United States is currently in a multi-theater war against terrorism, it can't ignore threats that might be around the corner. Today's defense dollars help pay for the military the nation needs in the future.
  • Global Instability: Regimes in North Korea and Iran continue to threaten regional stability, and the growing strength and military capabilities of countries like Russia and China should remind us of the need to stay vigilant.
  • Defense Spending in Context: In FY 2006, the U.S. spent more on Social Security and Medicare ($878 billion), federal, state and local education ($683.1 billion), and means-tested welfare ($599.6 billion) than it did on defense ($521.8 billion). Defense is not the source of the government's fiscal woes.
  • Obama Defense Budget Will Shrink as a Share of the EconomyInterest Payments Eclipsing Defense Budget: Under current projections, it is expected the federal government will spend more on interest payments for the national debt then on defense by 2015, if not sooner.

The Obama Defense Budget

  • Upside-Down Priorities: The Administration proposes spending $738.7 billion on defense in FY 2011: $579 billion on the core defense budget and $159 billion on Iraq and Afghanistan. Accounting for inflation, the defense budget is flat--growing only 1% last year. Meanwhile, entitlement spending grew by $77 billion, or 5%.
  • Not a Balanced Defense Budget: The primary defense accounts that pay for today's military, personnel ($159 billion), and operations and maintenance ($318 billion) consume 65% of the total defense budget, which means the Administration is mortgaging today's military at the expense of tomorrow's. A healthy defense budget should be more balanced.
  • An Inconsistent Plan: The Administration's defense budget is inconsistent with the military that is needed to sustain global U.S. security commitments. Tough decisions will have to be made without a higher defense budget.
  • Lack of Modernization: Declining modernization investments indicate the U.S. could be facing another procurement holiday as seen in the '90s, from which the military is still trying to recover. Modernization shortfalls will impact the ability to field effective missile defense systems, update nuclear forces, grow the Navy (which is supposed to be comprised of 313 ships but is currently at 283 and dropping), and reduce the age of fighters, tankers, and bombers.
  • Manpower versus Equipment: The Obama defense budget cannot afford to maintain the military manpower at proposed levels without reforms to military compensation. Without either more dollars or reform, the military will face 10% manpower reductions over the next decade to offset costs.

Uncontrolled Spending a National Security Threat

  • Constitutional Priority: The Constitution states that the primary role of the federal government is "to provide for the common defense."
  • Entitlements: Military spending represents less than one-fifth of the federal budget and approximately half the average level of defense spending during the Cold War (as a percentage of the economy). Yet Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and President Obama's new health care entitlements will consume the entire federal budget--including defense--if left unchecked. Addressing entitlement spending is the key long-term challenge for lawmakers.

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