Defense Budget 101
How much are we really spending?
Let us first dispel the official claim, blithely recited by most news reports, that this budget amounts to $439.3 billion—in itself a staggering sum, but by any proper measure, it really totals $513 billion, and, if looked at from a certain angle, it comes to over $580 billion.
You have to go digging through various portals and annexes to find most of this hidden money, but once you push the right doors, the stash is all sitting there in plain view.
One way that administrations understate the magnitude of military spending (and this practice long antedates George W. Bush) is to talk only about the "Department of Defense budget." Yet this comprises only a portion (though, granted, the largest portion) of what officials outside the Pentagon call the "national defense budget."
The DoD budget for fiscal year 2007 is indeed $439.3 billion (though more about that computation in a moment). But look at the Office of Management and Budget's "Analytical Perspectives" documents, specifically Table 27-1, "Budget Authority and Outlays by Function, Category and Program." The category called "National Defense" includes not only the Defense Department's budget but also the "defense activities" of the Department of Energy (mainly nuclear warheads and the national weapons labs, totaling $16 billion) and several other federal agencies ($4.4 billion), as well as $3.3 billion in various "mandatory" programs (mainly accrual payments to the military retirement fund).
Add them up, and you reach $463 billion.
But that's not all. The OMB analysts also include the $50 billion that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says he will request in "supplemental" funds for FY 2007, sometime this year, to cover anticipated expenses of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That brings the total to $513 billion.
And there's more. The Pentagon also announced Monday that it would ask Congress for $70 billion as a supplemental to fund war costs for the rest of FY 2006 (which lasts until this coming October). Strictly speaking, this $70 billion doesn't count in a toting up of military appropriations for FY 2007. But if you view the whole budget package simply as a request for more new money, whether for next year or slipped in through the back door of this year, then that takes us to $583 billion.
The administration's second budgetary sleight of hand (again, not invented by Bush's people) involves a more basic conceptual confusion—the tacit notion that more money means more defense. Nobody expresses this equation explicitly, yet few officials or politicians are willing to challenge it, either. (When legislators vote to cut a weapon system, for whatever reason, they know that their opponent in the next election will call them "soft on defense," if not "unpatriotic.")
It would be a miracle of modern bureaucracy if every line item in a half-trillion-dollar national defense budget were essential, or even useful, to national defense (however you want to define that concept). Here, taken from the FY07 budget, are a few rebuttals to the belief in miracles:
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of airplane courtesy Win McNamee/Getty Images.