Can the U.S. Defend Itself if Sequestration Cuts Really Happen?

If the military can't absorb a $55 billion hit, it's not worth what we've been spending on it.


Above is a chart compiled by Mercatus Center economist and policy analyst Veronique de Rugy (also a Reason columnist and a frequent co-author of mine). It breaks down what the federal government spent on defense last year. It turns out that when folks cite the base budget of the Department of Defense, they're only talking about a bit more than half of all tax dollars spent on defense.

This chart puts into perspective the amount of spending that is not being accounted for in widely cited figures by the Pentagon (DOD) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Using data calculated by Winslow Wheeler of the Project on Government Oversight, line items from other areas of the federal budget relevant to defense and security issues are added to the FY 2012 base. The findings suggest that reported defense spending figures underestimate the overall cost of defense and national security programs by up to $400 billion in FY 2012.

Read more here.

So when you add up all the various parts of the budget that go toward defense, security, and related issues, you're much closer to the $1 trillion mark than the half-trillion number that gets bandied about in sequestration discussions.

If it's tricky to figure out the total amount of money spent on defense, it's still pretty damn clear that the United States can withstand planned sequestration cuts without leaving the nation open to attacks by Islamic death cultists, Chinese nationals, a resurgent Russia, or what-have-you. Sequestration will takean estimated $55 billion out of the DOD base figure above (nobody is actually certain of the final amounts, but it will be around 9 percent of the base budget). That possibility is enough to get Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to bitch:

"I'm ashamed of the Congress, I'm ashamed of the president, and I'm ashamed of being in this body, quite frankly," said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), an Air Force Reservist who has been working for months to develop a bipartisan plan to protect the Pentagon.

"How do you go to somebody in the military who's been deployed four or five times .?.?. and say, 'For your good work over the last decade, we're going to ruin the military; we're going to make it harder for you to have the equipment you need to fight, and we're going to reduce benefits to your family?'?" he said.

As a starting point for a therapy session, Graham might want to train his fire on a foreign policy that has led to soldiers being deployed again and again for a decade-plus in two misconceived and poorly executed wars that are ending with whimpers. And he might want to kick the ass of his Senate colleagues, who have not managed to pass a budget since April 2009. That failure to accomplish the most-basic of tasks not just once but three years running is the reason we're even talking about automatic spending cuts (that have, unsurprisingly, been pushed back from when they were supposed to kick in). The failure to pass budgets begat the 2011 debt-limit deal which begat the failed spending super-committee which begat sequestration.

Graham never seems to be in a situation where he has to respond to the most obvious question for him and other folks who think that the Great God Defense Spending should never be cut, even after a decade-plus of growth. Inflation-adjusted military spending jacked up no less than 71 percent between 2001 and 2010 alone. If the country can't cut it by 9 percent now, with two major wars ending, then we have given up all possibility of ever changing the trajectory of our spending patterns.

Oh, and here's something else that might make Graham cranky: Voters are totally happy to cut defense spending. As pollster Scott Rasmussen reported in Reason's October 2012 issue, fully 67 percent of Americans want to see cutting across-the-board in every federal budget. The U.S. spends about $2,500 per capita for national security while most of our NATO allies spend 20 percent of that amount (Rasmussen noted that less than half of Americans think we should still be in NATO). Voters may not have figured those costs to the penny, but they intuit that the U.S. can ease off a bit on military spending without too much worry.

But sadly, even if sequestration comes to pass, Graham won't have to wait long for defense spending to start cranking up again. Here's another chart de Rugy put together. It shows the effect of sequestration under various scenarios related to the base Defense budget, war spending, caps subject to the Budget Control Act of 2011 (which gave us sequestration as a backup plan if Congress couldn't agree to spending cuts under normal circumstances).

Read the whole explanation here, but the short version is this: It'll be a year or two before military spending is back to where it was and, in fact, is back on its blue-sky path yet again, soaring upwards toward the heavens where nobody ever gets burned by flying too close to the sun. Or something like that.

NEXT: Feds Peddling Dead People's Social Security Numbers

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  1. Yo, fuck Lindsey Graham, whoever she is.

    1. For years, I thought Stevie Nicks’ name was Lindsey Buckingham.

    2. Whatever floats your boat.

    3. Wasn’t she the chick who played the Bionic Woman?

      1. No, that was Lindsey Wagenhore.

  2. Cut spending. Cut defense spending, cut entitlement spending, cut spending. Everywhere. Cut spending!
    Let the damn Euros and Japanese defend themselves.

  3. If it’s any comfort, Lindsey, I’m ashamed of you being in the senate too.

  4. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), an Air Force Reservist

    A reservist, really? How again did he avoid getting deployed to Iraq?

    1. He’s a reservist lawyer.

    2. He did do a few months in Iraq or Afghanistan. I am too lazy to Google it at the moment. He is a legal weenie

      1. Not a few months or even mobilization, just his annual training. And it was more congressional junket than training. How many O-5 JAGs get briefings and tours from general officers unrelated to legal matters?

        FWIW, Scott Brown did the same deal for a week too.

        1. Indeed. The fact that he hasn’t been mobilized, despite the fact he receives a regular reserve paycheck, is a scandal waiting for an enterprising journalist to dig into. Not that it’ll happen.

  5. Whatever you do, don’t read anything in the WSJ regarding defense spending. They go the full retard. As in ‘whenever we cut defense spending we regret it later when new challenges arise’.

    1. Surely you can’t be in favor of cutting your drone spending.

      1. I don’t know how much military spending is accounted for by drones, but nothing is sacrosanct.

  6. Byline on H&R teaser but missing on this article.

  7. There are a lot of kids at schools like Duke and Stanford and Yale and the University of Chicago who will suffer if Daddy’s company doesn’t get that next big defense contract.

    Won’t somebody think of the children?

    1. That’s the thing about cuts to defense spending that annoy me the most.

      We definitely need to trim back defense spending considerably, but we all know that the areas that will get the biggest cuts are things like enlisted pay, support services for veterans and other things that definitely should NOT be cut. Whereas things like “the next big toy that will go boom” R&D will survive just fine. Or the factory that DOD supports that is churning out more F16’s to sell to Egypt, they will be fine. That senate seat ain’t gonna pay for itself!

      Yo, fuck these guys.

      1. …”we all know that the areas that will get the biggest cuts are things like enlisted pay, support services for veterans and other things that definitely should NOT be cut. Whereas things like “the next big toy that will go boom” R&D will survive just fine.”…

        There’s no doubt. But there’s also no alternative. Unless we use up the cuts setting up a new bureaucracy to make those decisions.

        1. Um well actually….the best way to save money, and the way to actually bring a more Constitutional approach to defense, is to absolutely gut the Army. I mean keep the SOCOM guys, a cadre and maintenance element, and maybe the 82nd and the 101st. Everything else goes. There are cuts to be made with the Navy and Air Force of course, but they have a legitimate role to play in the defense of the United States, which is why we have a military in the first place. But if you have armored and mech infantry divisions just sitting around, some asshat politician gets the bright idea to use them.

          1. So how do you get the military to do this? ‘Cause you say so?
            Sorry, just damn cut the budget. Regardless of what they cut, we have reserves far beyond what will ever remain.

            1. Well obviously this is a when I’m God Emperor of Man type deal. It sure as hell isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

              I see the proper role of the US military as defense of the United States, protection of American shipping (which nowadays includes air travel), and the protection of American embassies and consulates. I think an Airborne division is a handy thing to have when you need to secure the embassy, a buffer zone, and an airfield to lift out US personnel and civilians from a war zone.

              1. Virginian| 1.30.13 @ 8:11PM |#
                …”I think an Airborne division is a handy thing to have when you need to secure the embassy, a buffer zone, and an airfield to lift out US personnel and civilians from a war zone.”…

                In theory, and you presume an airfield.
                Problem is airborne is mobile once; when it is dropped in. and didn’t get damaged in the drop.
                Thereafter, it’s doggy foot-soldiers with no transport or weapons other than the ‘light’ ones dropped in.
                I’d say A-B did one good job: Normandy. end of story, should be end of mission.

          2. Oh, and the Airborne would be first on my list to cut; expensive and worthless.

            1. +1

              We’ve got 6 airborne brigades, we don’t need them.

          3. Let’s work on getting the four services to make their radio communications interoperable first…

            1. I was discussing with a friend the other day of how much overhead could be saved if the four services were combined into one. All that wasted duplication… As an added benefit you could eliminate more than half the General Officers…a good start.

              1. Yeah, that idea was floated by the “Whiz Kids” of the Kennedy Admin. It’s a stupid idea. The missions of the various forces are suitably different that the very nature of their organization and culture is an outgrowth of their categorically different missions. Much of their functions are, in fact, not duplicated.

                One could argue that the duplicated functions of bureaucracy could be consolidated, and I agree with that. To some extent, this has already occurred in the form of DFAS and Tricare.

                As an added benefit you could eliminate more than half the General Officers

                Many of the flag staff positions could be eliminated without service consolidation.

                Given the nature of the Fed and political military, this benefit would be terribly unlikely to occur anyway.

                1. Yes, because the operations the Navy and Marine Air Wings perform are completely different than the missions performed by the Air Force. And it makes perfect sense for the Navy and Air Force to compete with each other (carriers vs bombers) for global force projection missions. Definitely couldn’t save money combining support functions. It definitely wouldn’t improve inefficiencies in the joint environment by working and training together on a daily basis, using the same vernacular and co-developed tactics. Definitely wouldn’t be cheaper to have one acquisition center where requirements are developed for a total force rather than four separate ones. Definitely cheaper to have three separate bases providing the same function to three separate services. Definitely cheaper to train pilots under two different systems and at different bases than it would be to combine that training and shut down the excess bases. Definitely wouldn’t want those pilots using similar lexicons and tactics.

                  Definitely a stupid idea.

              2. Canada has unified armed services.

                However, think of divided military branches as further checks and balances against a possible military coup, in as much as any potential coup leader would have to account for potential opposition from other services. For that reason, this is one of the areas where I’m happy with inefficient government. (This is also the same reason we do not have a General Staff system with operational command of combat troops, despite the fact it would probably be more functionally proficient than the current system.)

                1. Which isn’t to say that the majority of flag-level (and even blow) officer positions should be removed anyway.

                  1. *shouldn’t be removed anyway.

                2. Harper has rebranded the Air Force and Navy back to being the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Royal Canadian Navy. Not sure how upper management is being split or if, but harkening back to the monarchy for no fucking reason seemed a way to score points with the old boys hanging out at The Legion.

      2. Exactly right, Tman. That is the oldest trick in the book for politicians. If the people want to cut spending always cut the most needed program. Politicians are disgusting.

  8. Then resign asshole.

    Bring everybody home and let the world burn. Tap our domestic oil and let the ragheaded sheiks use their oil for the anal lube they will need because without us they are fucked.

  9. This morning somebody was moaning about the big hit to GDP from winding down Iraq and Afghanistan.

    “We can’t afford peace!” will make a great campaign slogan.

    1. “We can’t afford peace!” will make a great campaign slogan.

      Isn’t that what they said after WWII? I remember Homer being told that in the Best Years of Our Lives.

  10. No Jim Nabors? I am so dissapoint Nick.

    You know the Brits supported guns once, except for the Irish, including people with names like Gillespie.

    That said Fuck Lindsay Graham.

  11. I’m ashamed of being in [the Senate],” Graham told the Washington Post

    Then, please, go home, you jackass, and take your evil side-kick, McCain, with you.

  12. “I’m ashamed of the Congress, I’m ashamed of the president, …”

    What a coincidence! Fuck you, Lindsay Graham.

  13. I must admit I am pleasantly surprised by the comments here so far.

    1. Yeah, but you’re an idiot.

    2. Well we’re all trying to kick the Team Red!


    3. That’s because you’re a TEAM BLUE idiot who hasn’t figured out this isn’t a TEAM RED site yet.

    4. Do you mean you finally started reading the comments, instead of posting Boooshhh did it too!!! over and over ad nauseum?

  14. I was reading this morning that 4th quarter GDP was down mainly due to a cut in defense expenditures. I try to stay up on current events but I wasn’t aware of any defense cuts coming down the pike. Anyone know what this the story is with this?

    1. I read similar comments, but haven’t seen one bit of evidence.
      We’ve been flying Brit and French hitch-hiking troops all over Africa since neither one of them can afford to put gas in the car. Ain’t no returning troops getting off the ships in NYC harbor.
      Maybe Lockheed is giving us a quantity break on drones, since the Messiah is using them up?

    2. It’s BS. The liberal press and politicians know that the low information voters will believe anything they are told.
      If they think GDP is down now, wait until sequestration kicks in.

  15. Lindsey Graham should be ashamed — of everything he’s proud of.

  16. Man that picture screams for some “alt-text”!

    … cheeks are full of semen!

  17. Lindsey Graham should be ashamed

    He should be tarred and feathered and strung up for treason, without a trial, because guess what? We’re going to look at him and say, guess what?, enemies of America don’t get a trial, jackass!

  18. If we can’t military spending now


  19. Sounds like the DOD got their Christmas presents early…..just like Mr. Delicate Wrists!

    It is hard to look at these new numbers without at least some cynical thoughts about the reported numbers for the prior quarter. We were frankly astonished when the final numbers for the third quarter came in at a 3.09% “full recovery” growth rate, driven largely by unexplained increases in Federal spending, particularly in the Department of Defense (DOD) — the timing of which was completely controlled by an Administration in serious need of positive pre-election economic headlines. The annualized rates of growth for defense spending rose to over 15% in 3Q-2012, only to magically reverse to a -15% annualized contraction rate in 4Q-2012 — after the polls had closed.

    Read more at http://globaleconomicanalysis……OPKuK9U.99

  20. Rank in worstest to worst::
    Lindsey Graham
    Chuck Schumer
    John McCain
    Dick Durbin

    How many hours a day does Schumer spend on tv?

    1. Schumer’s handlers keep him busy enough to stay away from laundry detergent pods, which he’s admittedly drawn to eating.

    2. Your list is backwards.

  21. Lindsey Graham: the senator whose head I most want to lob a shoe towards (having inherited that distinction from the lesser Kennedy.)


  22. I think the only military spending necessary is whatever is needed to keep a militia with muskets, and maybe a cannon for every town, but they’re gonna have to pay for that out of pocket.

    1. Yeah, with a name like Remington you would be one to try to sell us “muskets.” Well, don’t you fret none, young Remington, we’ve already armed ourselves with Samuel Colt’s fine firearms.

      1. I kind of like those new fangled weapons from Mr. Gatling and that French guy, Mr. Maxim.

    2. Are you really that stupid or are you trying to be funny?

      1. My reply was addressed to Remington.

  23. “The U.S. spends about $2,500 per capita for national security while most of our NATO allies spend 20 percent of that amount,” is a total red herring, as all of our allies depend, mostly, if not fully, on the US for their defense. Equally directed toward the misinformation department is the comparison with Chinese military spending, where payroll is a tiny fraction of ours, even though their personnel numbers probably are larger than ours. The Chinese military is also conscripted, not voluntary and always, more professional, reducing further, the absurdity of comparison.

  24. Nicest chat and chat Iraqi entertaining Adject all over the world

  25. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Using data calculated by

  26. This morning somebody was moaning about the big hit to GDP from winding down Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Cleaning company

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