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The Trajectory of Defense Spending

Tuesday March 29th, 2016   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:07am PDT   •  

Last year, as part of the 2-year budget/debt ceiling deal negotiated between President Obama and former House Speaker John Boehner, spending on national defense was supposed to increase. Here’s what Military Times wrote at the time:

The White House and Congress late Monday agreed to a budget deal that would provide financial relief to the Defense Department over two years by increasing defense spending caps.

The agreement calls for raising the national debt ceiling until March 2017, as well as automatic, across-the-board spending caps set forth by previous deficit-reduction legislation.

The deal would boost the spending restrictions on the base defense budget by $25 billion to $548 billion in fiscal 2016 and by $15 billion to $551 billion in fiscal 2017, according to a summary of the legislation. In addition, it would provide some $59 billion for the war budget in each of the next two fiscal years, resulting in an overall defense budget of $607 billion and $610 billion, respectively.

Several months later, here’s what the effect of that agreement looks like when we compare the spending levels for national defense from 2016 through 2020 in President Obama’s FY 2017 budget proposal against the same years in his previous year’s budget proposal.


The 5-year increase in defense spending from President Obama’s FY2017 proposal is $26.8 billion. However, we see that once we adjust the values for inflation to be in terms of constant 2009 U.S. dollars, spending on national defense will largely continue to decline in real terms.

Factoring in what we have already shown with President Obama’s proposed spending for both Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, it is clear that spending on National Defense is being cut in real terms in order to sustain these health care-related welfare programs. In June 2015, the Congressional Budget Office determined that repealing the Affordable Care Act would greatly improve the U.S. government’s fiscal situation by reducing the size of its budget deficits.

Getting back to defense spending, given U.S. obligations for defense and the increasing global instability that has come to characterize President Obama’s tenure in office, often as a direct consequence of the administration’s foreign policies, the small increase in U.S. defense spending proposed in the FY 2017 budget is very likely understating the increase in spending that events will likely force upon the nation as the consequences of President Obama’s defense and foreign policies continue to play out.

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March 2016