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OutsideView: How Big Is The Defense Budget

Your latest aquisition
By Winslow Wheeler, UPI Outside View commentator
Washington (UPI) Jan 23, 2006
On Dec. 21, 2005, Congress passed a defense appropriations bill, which according to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, funded "defense spending" for the United States for the current fiscal year, 2006. But the impression that the $453 billion authorized in the bill constitutes America's defense budget for 2006 would be quite incorrect. Depending on how you count it, the numbers in the bill understate U.S. military and defense spending by more than $200 billion.

The total amount to be spent for the Department of Defense in 2006 is $13 billion to $63 billion more, the latter figure assuming full funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the now-annual "emergency" appropriations supplementals.

If you also count non-Department of Defense "national defense" costs, add another $21 billion and, if you count defense-related security costs, such as homeland security, the numbers touted by the appropriators are more than $200 billion wrong.

Having observed, and in past years participated in, the obscuration of just how much the United States actually spends for defense, this author believes it would assist the debate over the defense budget in this country by identifying its actual size.

The bill enacted in December had the title, "Making appropriations to the Department of Defense for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2006 and for other purposes." It was a little heavy on those -- which include a reported $40 billion annual budget for U.S. intelligence, some of it spent by agencies outside the pentagon -- and it did not comprise all the money the Defense Department will spend in 2006.

To peer through the opaqueness of congressional defense appropriations, it is necessary to run through the numbers; all the numbers.

The first step is to understand the "defense spending" bill, designated H.R. 2863, as enacted:

  • Division A of the bill appropriated $453.3 billion, but not all of it for the Department of Defense. $522 million went to the CIA for unclassified "intelligence community management" and to the Coast Guard. This makes the Department of Defense total in Division A $452.8 billion.

  • Division B, Title I, Chapter 1 of the bill adds $4.4 billion to the Department of Defense's budget for its expenses rescuing and relieving civilians and repairing other damage from Hurricane Katrina.

  • Chapter 7 of Division B adds another $1.4 billion to rebuild Department of Defense facilities damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

  • Division B, Title II, Chapter 2 adds $130 million for Department of Defense work preparing for a threatened Avian Flu pandemic.

  • Division B, Title III, Chapter 2 cuts the Department of Defense budget by $80 million in rescissions (cancelled spending). More importantly, Chapter 8 in this title cuts Department of Defense, and all other federal spending, except the Department of Veterans Affairs and "emergency" spending, by 1 percent "across the board."

    The cut is mandated to occur in every single program of the affected accounts, nothing is exempted. The reduction to Department of Defense is $4.0 billion.

    The actual total for the Department of Defense in the bill is $454.8 billion, over a billion more than what the appropriations committees implied.

    But that's not all for the Defense Department's budget. Add $12.2 billion for military construction.

    For reasons of politics and jurisdiction, Congress appropriates money for the Defense Department in two separate bills: the Department of Defense Appropriations bill and the Military Construction Appropriations bill, which these days is also wrapped in with other spending, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    The "MilCon" bill funds military bases in the states and districts of almost every member of Congress. A major Capitol Hill activity is writing press releases for local newspapers about the goodies the senators and representatives add for their military facilities back home.

    They also write press releases about the goodies they add in the Defense appropriations bill. (Having two bills to write press releases about is better than one.)

    So, that gets Department of Defense spending for 2006 to $466.7 billion. That's all, right?


    Add about another $50 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    There is already $50 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan in the $466.7 billion appropriated in H.R. 2863.

    However, war spending in 2005 was over $100 billion, and most expect 2006 to cost at least as much. Nonetheless, Congress decided to provide just $50 billion for ongoing military operations, about enough money for the first six months of the fiscal year. It will run out in about March 2006.

    Before then, Congress and the president will need to add more, up to another $50 billion. It is that amount that Pentagon and congressional officials privately say they anticipate will be added in a "supplemental" appropriations request in early 2006.

    OK, that gets the total to $516.7 billion. Done now, right?


    There are other defense activities in the Department of Energy to keep America's nuclear arsenal reliable and effective and to develop new nuclear weapons. Add another $16.4 billion.

    There are also defense related costs in the Selective Service, the National Defense Stockpile, parts of the General Services Administration, and other miscellany. Add still another $4.7 billion.

    That gets the total to $537.8 billion. This figure constitutes the "National Defense" budget function (known to budget geeks as budget function "050") in presidential budget requests and congressional budget resolutions.

    You may also want to count even more spending, such as the costs of the Department of Homeland Security, which is certainly national defense in a generic sense.

    Add about $41 billion. You might also want to consider some of the human consequences of current and previous wars; add about $68 billion for Veterans Affairs.

    Also, consider adding the costs of reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan which counts in the State Department's budget, plus all the other costs for international security, diplomacy, and foreign aid, as administered by Condoleezza Rice; add about $23 billion.

    If you count all these costs, the total is $669.8 billion.

    This amount easily outdoes the rest of the world.

    In fact, if you count just the costs of the National Defense budget function, the approximate $538 billion we spend is $29 billion more than the $509 billion the entire rest of the world spends.

    Pick the number you believe to be most appropriate for "defense spending" in 2006. Presumably, you will not be using the $453 billion widely advertised by Congress and the press. Now, there can be an accurate debate on whether this budget is too large or too small. Please proceed.

    Source: United Press International

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