The Real Defense Budget


photo credit:  Reuters

While everyone knows that the defense budget is large — even in the numbers that the public sees as the formally admitted figures by the Department of Defense — the truth is that when one scratches beneath the bureaucratic veneer, national security spending is much larger, nearly double the amount US citizens are told.

A Republican, numbers-compulsive defense wonk at the Center for Defense Information, Winslow Wheeler, has published a great summary of what America’s defense budget ‘really’ is. 

Wheeler offers a chart of the budget figures for both 2012 and 2013 — starting with what is called the “DOD Base Budget (Discretionary)”.  He then adds line items from different accounts throughout other parts of the budget that really should be part of what is considered defense and security — including the odd factoid that the Department of Defense and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issue different figures of what the DOD Base Budget really is — with the Pentagon shorting what it gives the media by about $6 billion.

Defense Budget 2012 2013.jpgSome may quibble with what Wheeler includes in his roster of the nearly $1 trillion the US government is spending to help Americans feel safe — but I find it a good guide to thinking around the corners of the defense and national security budget.

I also think it’s useful to look at the share of “net interest” that Americans are paying for this level of defense expenditure, $$63.7 billion in 2013. 

Just like tax and tip noted on a receipt at a restaurant, perhaps we should require those spending US tax dollars to publicly acknowledge the ‘extra tax’ their spending entails in terms of interest payments on debt.

And to take this just one step further, I really would like to know how many cars and how much it costs to ferry US military personnel, generals, colonels, and the like back and forth between the Pentagon and the US Capitol.  The amount of money dedicated by the Pentagon to engage and penetrate the legislative branch of government must be impressive.

— Steve Clemons is Washington Editor at Large at
The Atlantic, where this post first appeared. Clemons can be followed on Twitter at @SCClemons


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