Government Spending

Dems and Reps Agree: Let's Spend Tons More on Defense!


Over to the right is a Heritage Foundation chart that shows what will happen if the United States' federal government continues on its current spending binge. In the best-case scenario from the Congressional Budget Office, federal revenues creep up to about 19 percent of GDP while spending surges to around 35 percent of GDP by the year 2035. The spending surge comes mostly from Medicare (government-subsidized health care for the old); Social Security (poorly performing guaranteed income for the old, regardless of need) and Medicaid (objectively rotten health care for the poor of all ages), interest on the federal debt (at $15 trillion and climbing), and all sorts of other nickel-and-dime programs add to the rising red line too.

Heritage runs through some "Solutions for the Super Committee" and most of them make sense, including structural reforms of entitlements (hey, why not abolish them except for some safety net programs for the very poor?) and not raising taxes (increases might well strangle any recovery that may or may not be happening).

But then Heritage hocks this looey out of right field:

* Fully Fund National Defense: Providing for America's national defense is the primary duty of the federal government. The super committee should ensure full funding for America's armed forces rather than making additional cuts.

Elsewhere in the same document, the Heritage bully boys note that cuts triggered by the failure of the Super Committee would place "our national defense at risk." After all, "Defense spending, excluding war costs, is only 3.7% of GDP—under the 60-year average—and will be cut further under the Budget Control Act, exacerbating our readiness crisis."

This is a less-convincing line of argument than Newt Gingrich suggesting he was raking in millions of dollars from Freddie Mac as a "historian." Our "readiness crisis" is not the result of cheaping out on national defense. It's the result of waging multiple wars without end and clear missions for a decade-plus.

Heritage's whining that defense is in any way being shortchanged now or in the future has some powerful allies in the Obama administration. There's Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, warning in a letter to Sen. John McCain that

In FY 2013, the reduction in defense spending under maximum sequestration would amount to 23 percent if the President exercised his authority to exempt military personnel….The situation does not get better beyond FY 2013. In this period, cuts to the DoD budget under maximum sequestration would equal about $100 billion a year compared with the FY 2012 plan. Facing such large reductions, we would have to reduce the size of the military sharply. Rough estimates suggest after ten years of these cuts, we would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.

The polite word for this sort of numbers-crunching is bullshit. Whatever Panetta and Heritage and all the other deficit hawks cum defense Chicken Littles are talking about, it ain't cuts to Defense because of sequestration. Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy (follow her on Twitter) has produced a chart worth poring over like a treasure map:

Assuming maximum sequestration, Defense would increase only 16 percent in current dollars over the next decade, rather than 23 percent without sequestration. [Note: the original version of this post linked to a chart with a slightly different start date and hence slightly different percentages for increases. Both charts are correct, though the one starting in 2012 allows for a slightly cleaner comparison.] And check out the chump-change difference in the overall spending increase: $1.8 trillion vs. $1.65 trillion! That ain't draconian and neither is the threat of sequestration over all.

And before we go any further, let's not forget something that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has helpfully pointed out:

We have increased military spending by 120% since 2001 [in nominal dollars]. We have doubled military spending.

So whatever else you say about the wisdom of increasing Defense by 23 percent vs. 16 percent, at least recognize that either figure comes after a decade of runaway increases. What you're fighting over is the size of the cherry on top of the sundae.

Heritage Foundation, like most groups on the right, is quick to announce that the government is generally inefficient and incompetent when it comes to spending money. Except for Defense, one of the most obviously bloated, inefficient, and unsupervised parts of the governments. That's a bit of a contradiction now, isn't it? Which is why so many cons wrap themselves in the flag to exempt military spending from the same sort of penny-pinching scrutiny that, say, school-lunch programs deserve. Indeed, as scholars at the conservative American Enterprise Institute will tell you, "the price of greatness" demands that we never shield military spending from massive increases.

Say what you will about the war machinists, but they've got a strong ally not just in Defense Secretary Panetta but in President Barack Obama. In his ridiculous budget plan released earlier this year, Obama envisioned a 10-year span in which "security spending" increased from $815 billion dollars to slightly over $1 trillion (in current dollars; see Table S3). The Republican alternative, written by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, suggested spending just (just!) $801 billion in 2012 and a mere (mere!) $838 billion in 2021 (summary table S3; total spending = security + "global war on terror").

As Peter Suderman noted earlier today, all indications are that the Super Committee is almost surely headed to a failure as unsurprising as its members are unspectacular. The reasons are as obvious as the nose on your face. The Republicans aren't interested in cutting the sort of spending they like, and the Democrats aren't interested in cutting the sort of spending they like. And given the remarkable consistency of federal revenue—it's tough as hell to goose it up or down for any length of time—any sort of budget fix has got to come from the spending side.

The real pity of the situation involves that blue revenue line up there on the Heritage chart. If in fact federal revenue, absent any significant changes from current policy, can climb to 19 percent of GDP, we know exactly how to balance the budget over the next decade without raising taxes. As Veronique de Rugy and I argued in our March 2011 Reason article "The 19 Percent Solution," it requires small, year-over-year cuts to expected increases in spending that would effectively freeze spending around current levels. In 2021, we'd be spending roughly as much as we took in. Here's a chart outlining how that might happen:

Sure, sticking to a budget isn't as much fun as screwing the other guy while boosting your own preferred type of spending, but it has the not-inconsequential benefit of keeping the country from going broke. So there's that.

Here's a video that explains the 19 Percent Solution:

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NEXT: Don't Let's Discuss the Legitimacy of the Saudi Government, MMkay?

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  1. In their defense, it’s necessary to spend more to fight the wars they start.

    1. “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

    2. I wonder how much goes to war versus defense contractor projects not used in war. We’ve paid for some R&D on some silly shit.

      In the Bush days, there was the defense budget then emergency spending bills to fund the wars.

  2. We had to destroy the budget to save it

  3. Heritage hocks this looey

    *taps The Jacket? on the shoulder*

    “Um, Mr. Gillespie, sir? Not to be pedantic, but didn’t you mean, ‘Heritage hocks a loogie? Thought so – no, no – no thanks necessary, sir! It was my pleasure, Mr. Gillespie!”

  4. In my eyes, a government’s two jobs are to protect its citizens and provide public transportation (such as highways, etc.). I want a large defense. Whether you believe it’s too much or not enough, national security is the one thing our government’s good at doing.

    1. Yeah, well, I don’t really give a shit that you want a large defense. You want that? You fucking pay for it, parasite.

      1. I want a large defense. I want people everywhere in the world to be so terrified of the US they would rather sell their mothers into slavery than attack us.

        But doing that doesn’t require 5% of GNP in perpetuity.

        1. Well, John, then you pay for it.

          1. Sure. Would you like to see my tax bill? If you want to set up a way for me not to have to pay taxes, I will gladly give up my voice in how that money is paid in return.

            In the mean time as long as I do pay taxes, anyone who says “then you pay for it” any time I voice my opinion on how said tax money is spent, can shut the fuck up and put it up their ass sideways.

            1. So the people who want to have their student loans bailed out can tell you to shut the fuck up and cram it in your ass sideways when you say that you don’t want to pay for it?

              I mean, they want it, just like you want a large military, right?

              1. Sure they can. If they manage to get the government to do it, it is too bad for me. That is how government works. Sometimes you don’t get your way.

        2. Do you not remember the RIFs in the nineties? DoD got cut by one third, while every other agency got expanded. Hey, the Cold War was over, and I was fine with the cuts. But then the op-tempo went up, and up, and up. By the time of Sept. 11 the Army was already tired. The folks screaming about the spending increases in DoD tend to forget how badly they had been cut the decade before.

          1. good point.

          2. No, they didn’t forget. They just never wanted that much defense spending in the first place.

      2. Well, you’re a jerk. It was my first time commenting on here, and I won’t be doing it again. Thanks!

        1. Everyone on here is a jerk Kimberly. You just have to give it back as good as you get.

          1. “Everyone on here is a jerk…”

            Truer words were never spoken.

        2. I don’t think your presence would be contributing anything, Kimberly.

          1. …and she was probably nubile.

            Ok, probably a 59 year old man trolling for gay porn and sex, but thanks for driving off “Kimberly” before we could find out.


          2. I don’t think your presence would be contributing anything, Kimberly. Mine doesn’t.

      3. “”Yeah, well, I don’t really give a shit that you want a large defense. You want that? You fucking pay for it, parasite.””

        Ouch! Epi, what’s up with that? If she was complaining about taxes AND making that statement it might have been fair game.

        1. You have to remember Epi goes on an anarchist bender once in a while.

          1. Yeah, but wow.

    2. All true. But there is a limit to everything. See my post below.

    3. We went to Kuwait to free them for Saddam’s invasion. We went to Iraq to liberate the Iraqis from Saddam. We went to Afghanistan, at first as a punitive mission for the Taliban for not handing over OBL, but that changed to keeping the Afghan people safe from the Taliban. We dropped bombs in Libya to help free Libyans from Kadafi.

      We are good at help countries that don’t really give a rats ass about us get rid of their dictators.

      1. I didn’t mention Vietnam or Korea either.

    4. “provide public transportation”


  5. The three percent figure is so dishonest as to be worthy of coming from liberals. Lets say that it takes “x” number of resources to maintain a proper defense. And lets further say that that figure is fairly constant decade to decade. And lastly lets say we had achieved a proper defense under Reagan. I am sure the folks at Heritage will go for that.

    So maintaining a proper defense cost 5% or whatever of our GDP in 1985. Well we are a hell of a lot richer now than we were then. The economy is much larger. But the defense needs of the country do not grow with the economy. They rise and fall with other factors like threats. So absent an increase in the threat, the country should spend less and less percent of its GNP on defense as it gets more and more wealthy.

    So of course it s below the historic average. If you picked an average and always spend that percentage and assuming you have a growing economy, you would end up with an endlessly expanding military, which last I heard was not necessary for the nation’s defense. At some point enough is enough.

    1. John, so what you’re saying is you’re fine with Iran going newcular [TITTIES] and you and Rand Paul are doing the Lambada with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Well, you can’t hug someone with newcular arms, BUT YOU CAN DEFEND YER KUNTRY FROM THE IRANS AND MOOSLIM TOURISSTSSZ~!



      1. I could make Iran into a parking lot for a lot less than 5% of GNP. Rouble doesn’t make trouble.

        1. But then how much of the GNP are you going to spend on trying to keep the blowback at bay?

          1. Little or nothing. How much blowback does China and Russia ever get? It is a jungle out there. People attack you because they think you are weak and they can get away with it not because they fear you.

            1. “”How much blowback does China and Russia ever get?””

              When was the last time they invade a foreign country?

              1. Who said anything about invading?

                1. “BEIJING ?Attackers armed with Molotov cocktails and explosives stormed a police station in China’s restive Muslim province of Xinjiang on Monday, killing and wounding several police officers, taking hostages and setting the building on fire, according to a local official and a report from the state-run news agency Xinhua.”

                  And that’s just one incident, you moron.

                  1. Xinjiang and Chechnya are permanent annexations, which is nothing like the ‘rouble not trouble’ campaign John is (rightly) advocating.

                2. Fair enough.

                  When was the last time either of those countries nuked anyone?

            2. Russia certainly got blowback from the Chechnya adventure.

            3. How much blowback does Russia get? You’re fucking kidding, right?

          2. …BLOWback….huh huh….huh huh….huh huh….

        2. OHHHH!! So now you’re working for Halliburton! AND Blackwater! Nice!

        3. “Rouble doesn’t make trouble.”

          So true. And rubble doesn’t make trubble either.

    2. Yes, but the graft needs of the Murthas know no bounds.

      1. That is what it is about. Notice we pulled out of Iraq but are building up in the rest of the Gulf. That way the contractors don’t get hurt by the pull out.

        Yeah, I have really gotten that cynical.

        1. It’s not cynicism when it’s obviously true.

  6. If we let our spending go on unchecked, it won’t be long before our creditors force us to stop spending so much on defense.

    Better to cut it all now and build it back up if/when we need it. If everyone else has to make do with less, I don’t see any reason why the defense department shouldn’t.



  7. Great…. another thing for my “let’s cut spending (except for everything we like)” ‘conservative’ friends to get excited about.

  8. I like a large defense too. But unbelievably, mind-bogglingly massive and large are two different things. Example: we have 13 aircraft carriers. China has one — a relatively little boat that they just got underway recently. Would we really be at risk if we had 9 aircraft carriers?

    Panetta’s concern that we’d be reduced to the smallest ground force since 1940 doesn’t sound terrifying given that a few years after 1940 we won a two-front war against two highly militaristic nations. Point is, we have massive military might even if we don’t always have a massive standing army.

    And of course, all of our military engagements have been far abroad. The notion that defense budgets need to be so massive assumes that we will continue to field expeditionary forces world-wide. In terms of actually defending the country from invasion, however, we don’t need anything like the military we have. No armed force in human history will ever have the capability to cross an entire ocean and successfully invade the United States. Shit, Germany didn’t even dare to cross the channel to invade Britian, and we were (rightly) very afraid of the sheer bloodbath that would have ensued had we invaded mainland japan — a nation which by that time had been bombed to cinders. Now imagine China and North Korea attempting to conduct a military landing in Los Angeles. Nuff said.

    1. True, BUT, I’m sure there were plans drawn up in the event things went their way. I’d never underestimate the ability of dictators to undervalue the lives of its troops just to prove a point to their enemies.
      In this day and age, it would be massive tactical and logistical nightmare, but I don’t doubt that countries have plans drawn up to try.

    2. Defending the US amounts to a hell of a lot more than keeping the PLA out of LA. A point that libertarians seem unable to grok.

      There is more than one way to hurt an enemy, and an enemy that has a vast economic empire is soooo much easier to hit because there are so many possible targets.

      If you can harass shipping in and out of the Mississippi, you can mess with roughly 1/4 to 1/3 of the entire US economy. Make people think inter-continental shipping routes are insecure and you can put a big damper on the US economy.

      Given what happened after 9/11, it’s not so hard to envision such a thing happening. I for one am in favor of a big mean Navy and Air Force, with a non-trivial Army to back them up.

      Which doesn’t change the fact that we’ve squandered vast fortunes and lives on stupid ventures since 9/11. Am I’m really afraid that our latest Lybia venture is what the future could look like.

  9. Neo-Progressive BiCurious looking for Neo-Conservative same for wet and dry foreign interventions. Must love drone-killing, occupations and assassinations.

    1. With that skill I’m guessing you write ads in the Village Voice.

    2. With that skill I’m guessing you write ads in the Village Voice.

  10. In the NEW WORLD ORDER, “War is healthy for children and other living things.”



    1. the terrorists are already hiding under the bed….




  14. Yeah, the whole “readiness” thing sort of begs the question: Ready for what?

    Personally, I think a good national security policy that focussed on our territorial security (which is to say, a much smaller active-duty army), a global navy (probably even larger than we have now), and an air force with global scope could be had for a lot less than we pay now.

    1. That is exactly the point RC; unfortunately our Congress critters can’t think longer than two years. We needed a huge nuclear arsenal to deter the Russians, but now that arsenal is mostly useless. If either North Korea or Iran nuked the US, we couldn’t nuke back because the populations of both nations are not in any way shape or form responsible for their governments. Thus, we need a large standing Army to go in and depose the leadership.
      What was really promising was ballistic missile defense – but it was really expensive too. So, by killing BMD, we’ve ensured we still need the large and expensive standing Army. Had we been able to roll out BND, we would have taken the incentive to build nukes away from some of the crazier countries on the planet.


    It is no secret that the TV media are owned by five Apostles of the MOLOCH, god of perpetual debt, money at interest and stock exchange (swindle) finance. The MOLOCH is the god that can neither pardon nor forgive. Consequently, killing, especially hi-tech murder using drones and smart bombs is utilized from time to time. September 30th was one of those times. Some say the killing was done by CIA. Others say orders of Pres.”Buckwheat.” Israel isn’t saying anything.

    The minion cohort of TV talking heads were immediately tested for loyalty. Each and every talking head spoke in dulcet and suave terms about the urgency and justification for killing (murder) of a Muslim cleric. He was an American citizen that taught English somewhere in Arab land of Yemen. Some say he had spoken critically of his country, America. Not a single TV head piece showed revulsion at arbitrary state murder. “No surprise here. Their jobs and pensions were at stake,” offers Loco Lola from her deep trance contact in past life as the first woman Jesuit at the 1555 Vatican.

    Cpl Duty First, just back from his ride along the great divide just South of Truth or Consequences on board his kick start, tank shift, 1949 Harley 61, agrees. He says the American system is now made up of persons desperate to preserve pensions. There is no higher value within the boundaries of the worlds first perfected electronic concentration camp than keeping a job and accumulating pension credits, sneers our Cpl. He can afford his arrogance because he already has his 30 year military pension. US Govt says any threat to employee pension is a terrorist threat, agrees the Cpl.

    Our two visitors just in from Ottawa, pretend not to hear. Lee Jon Billy-Bob Boot, top US Senior civil servant by pension standards is the only American seconded to oversee the security for reconstructing the Third Temple in Jerusalem for BIZWOG (British-Israel Zionist World Occupation Government).
    Read THE AMERICAN CALIPHATE of BIZWOG: The Final World Order. Jack Boot never mentions his pension possibilities now worth a lifetime value in the millions.

    Mogen Dildo, CEO of the Atlanta Center for Poverty to White People, especially Rednecks, has been assured by his MOSSAD handlers of vast sums in reward for his secret agent role in undermining and controlling the US. He sighs a gentle Heil Israel in anticipation of the special undercover bonus for never directly contacting his country Israel.

    Those who are non government employees can barely imagine such wages and benefits that exist behind the rubric of government service, including murder, offers Loco Lola now in deep trance contact with her mentor Wilma Of Tuktoyaktuk. Wilma, world leading remote viewing deep trance channeling medium, close with Emmett world premier interceptor and decoder of all known electronic signals, is trying to help Emmett. Maybe Loco with her frequent ET contacts can be helpful.

    It seems that world signals and codes about finance and commerce are becoming muddled and untruthful. Many are pretending to transmit financial reports, but when the codes are broken the reports are lies and fictions, finds Emmett. Maybe Loco in her next ET contact can ascertain to be sure the ETs are not meddling with the system. Given the fog of make believe data in the world financial reporting system, Wilma wonders if ETs are interfering. “It is just a long shot,” she says. But with America as the first perfected electronic concentration camp now engaging in artificially provoked state murder, either the elite has taken the blood oath of the Egregore or they are afraid of something. Read the both books, she says.

    Wilma listens carefully when Loco reports ET contact concerns. They are perplexed about why the continuing use of fossil fuel. A billion engines operating at 180 degrees Fahrenheit every operating minute while consuming multi billions of gallons of fuel and 14 times as much air for each gallon of fuel represents a peril to the ETs beloved planet, reports Loco Lola. Emmett says the ETs still do not understand the link between money creation and oil consumption. Read the book; MONEY: The 12th and FINAL RELIGION. EMMETT thinks we should know about the Egregore blood oath reported in the book THE AMERICAN CALIPHATE of BIZWOG: The Final World Order.

    The Prof is with his pages. The Cpl Duty First is standing making NAZI style postures and gestures in front of the desk. Feeling ignored, he loudly describes the Nazi salute. “Extend right arm at 45 degrees directly to the front then maintaining 45degree incline move right arm 30 degrees to the right.” Still without recognition, the Cpl shouts “Heil Hitler.” The Prof is unmoved except to point out the proper exclamation should be Seig Heil. It is a traditional form of Germans greeting Germans, says the Prof.

    The Prof points out in his scholastic mumble that the Cpl would be well advised to understand the significance of cultural gestures, signs and symbols. For example the double runes of the SS signified the Holy Spirit long before the Nazi party existed. The marching goose step was introduced to discipline the “boozers” in the battalion. Almost impossible to do when drunk. The Cpl had merely wanted to ask if the peace symbol of the 1960s was a deliberate inversion of the Roman Crucifix to mock Christianity.

    The Prof has been unleashed. He connects the assassination of US Pres Kennedy and the introduction of the 6,000,000 holocaust was part of a deliberate plan to displace Christian religion from its European roots into Semite control from the Middle East. It was crucial to intellectually conceal that the word Israel is a deference to the power of the sun to support life on the planet. There was no intent to describe a people or a place. The use of the Hebrew occult myth of 6,000,000 was considered essential for the continued control of Germany by psychological means. He says the morphing of WWII Allied powers in Europe into NATO by the Edward Warburg, brother of the Warburg, then Chiarman of the US federal reserve was BIZWOG masterpiece.

    The Cpl, overwhelmed, is back stepping to the door. He lamely explains that he is late for his ride with Conchita the pole dancer just South of Truth or Consequences along the great divide.

    1. Enh. Middling ramblecrazy at best. See our own dear rather’s shitty blog for how to do ramblecrazy properly.

    2. Your style reminds me of William S. Burroughs. I like it.

      1. Can’t even spell “Moloch” properly. “Molech” is also acceptable.

        And he seems to be confusing Moloch with Mammon.

  16. Both parties are in a hurry to keep killing. Both parties will lock up for a quantity of drugs the size of your smallest fingernail. The budget cutting plan is as good and sensible as anything I’ve seen yet from Reason. I just have to ask, what good is the right to own money and property when the government owns your life?

  17. US policy: we have to jump/shitkick/suckerpunch at least one other dude on the block every couple of months, or everybody will think we’re pussies and like, attack us and bully us and shit. So instead, lets be the attackers and bullies that we fear, but don’t even exist, if it weren’t for us fulfilling that niche, of “belligerant asshole that picks fights with everybody and has zero true friends because everybody actually hates and despises them for going into roid-rage-assbeat-mode at the smallest perceived insult”. Except Israel who is just as big of a fucking dick and a gleeful toadie when it comes to antagonizing a certain Mohammedian clique. Granted it takes us upwards of 10 years to whoop somebodys ass who is about 50x as poor and a tenth as strong, but Amurrika, fuck yeah, totally badass: teaching impoverished starving weaklings a fucking lesson. Cartman ain’t got nothing on us.

  18. Except for Defense, one of the most obviously bloated, inefficient, and unsupervised parts of the governments.

    That sounds a lot more like someone who doesn’t like defense spending, than a statement of fact Nick.

    “Most obviously bloated, inefficient, and unsupervised parts of the governments” — by what measure is defense worse than any other branch of government?

  19. Defense and a judicial system are the primary roles of government. Disagreeing is fine, but stupid. These are the two original reasons for government and everything else that government does is stuff that government has no business doing. I understand that many of you believe that if we just hugged the world and sang a couple of rounds “koom-bye-yah” or whatever that everything would be right as rain. I also understand that many of you believe in the Easter Bunny.

    Moving along…

    Defense spending is a huge portion of federal spending, roughly as big as the National Ponzi Scheme, and to insinuate otherwise (as Heritage has done) is outright deceptive.

    Defense spending is also soaked right through with waste and corruption. The defense industry is absolutely swimming in a cesspool of bad business practices and cronyism.

    “If” (there ain’t no “if”) the government capitulates in a financial collapse akin to Greece writ large and without the benefit of an international bailout, then there won’t be any way to fund national defense anyway.

    So, yes, the defense budget needs to be made smaller.

    Yes, the military needs to be refocused on actual national defense-related missions and get out of “World Police” mode.

    However, it won’t do any good to only focus on defense cuts. That National Ponzi Scheme has got to go, too.

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