Congress and the Obama administration must get defense spending under control as the country faces large budget deficits and debt—especially since military spending did much to contribute to our budget problems. Total U.S. defense spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) increased so much over the past decade that it reached levels not seen since World War II when the United States had 12 million people under arms and waged wars on three continents.
Some of this growth can be attributed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the baseline or regular defense budget has also increased significantly. The baseline budget, which does not include funding for Iraq or Afghanistan, has grown in real terms for an unprecedented 13 straight years. It is now $100 billion more than what the nation spent on average during the Cold War. When war funding is added, we are now spending about $250 billion more per year than during the Cold War. This ballooning defense budget played a significant role in turning the budget surplus projected a decade ago into a massive deficit.
As the Obama administration and Congress try to agree on a deal to raise the debt limit—an agreement that will inevitably involve cutting some money from the budget—they should keep in mind that they can cut $100 billion in defense spending annually and still keep our military budget at the Reagan administration’s peak Cold War levels of approximately $580 billion (all numbers adjusted for inflation unless otherwise noted). Bringing the defense budget down to the levels that existed under Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, H.W. Bush, and Clinton would require reductions of $250 billion to $300 billion annually.
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