Polling from Pew and Gallup reveals major public misconceptions about the defense budget. Fifty-eight percent of Americans know that Pentagon spending is larger than any other nation, but almost none know it is up to seven times that of China. Most had no idea the defense budget is larger than federal spending for education, Medicare or interest on the debt.
The scurrilous in Washington promote the misimpression of an under-funded Pentagon. They imply it is smaller than during the Cold War by saying it was at 8 percent of gross domestic product in the late 1960s, but only 4 percent of GDP now. Therefore, it’s gone down and is now low, right?
Some use hyperventilated rhetoric to pressure for more defense dollars. Sadly, this category now must include Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who termed “catastrophic” the recommendations of the Obama deficit commission to merely maintain defense spending at its post-WWII high, and who deemed a “crisis” the idea of a 1 percent—$5 billion—reduction in the 2011 defense budget compared to 2010.
Some on Capitol Hill, such as the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), blanch at the idea of restraining defense spending, claiming it would be “dangerous” to do anything but grow the defense budget while the nation is “at war.”
They don’t just ignore the facts, they torture them—but that’s nothing new in politics.
What is different, however, is that the aggressive ignorance about the defense budget is beginning to shrivel, revealing a new paradigm: the defense budget is outrageously bloated.
The new conventional wisdom is that we now spend more on the Pentagon than at any time since WWII, and that President Obama will exceed George W. Bush’s defense spending. Some even appreciate that he will also exceed Ronald Reagan’s. Others understand defense spending does not just exceed a few other functions in presidents’ budgets, it exceeds them all, except one—Social Security. In most cases, DOD doesn’t just exceed the others; it is multiples of them. . . .