How to Spin a Spending Increase, as a Cut


Categorie: David Axe, Finances, Politics, Pork, Reality Check |



The Pentagon’s 2010 budget, as penned by the Obama Administration, includes $534 billion in “base” spending, plus a war supplemental of $130 billion. The base budget represents a 4-percent increase over 2009, and the overall budget represents a roughly .5-percent rise. But to Obama’s political foes, this — plus future spending boosts to match inflation — is a “cut.” “Obama plan cuts defense spending to pre-9/11 levels,” the conservative Heritage Foundation warns.

There’s just one way to spin a military-spending increase as a decrease. That’s to convert the budget into a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. By that measure, U.S. military investment will decline from 5 percent of GDP, today, back down to 2001′s 3 percent, by 2019, according to Administration estimates. But that is not a spending cut. The military will still get more money, year after year, in its base budget.

The GDP trick is “a standard rhetorical device for defense hawks,” Ben Friedman at Cato notes.

By saying that defense spending needs to grow with GDP to be “level,” you are arguing for an annual increase in defense spending without saying so directly. That’s the point, of course. … Arguing that wealth creation should drive defense spending is to attempt to divorce the military from its strategic rationale. That’s an implicit acknowledgment that defense spending is not for safety.  High military spending in this worldview is either an end in itself or a partisan or cultural tool.  

(Art: Heritage)


4 Responses to “How to Spin a Spending Increase, as a Cut”

  1. infocyde says:

    I wonder if going from a 600 ship navy to below a 300 ship navy, from 18 active army divisions to now roughly 10 11ish, not to mention having about what 1/3 less active air wings since the 80ies is a dirty republican trick also…

  2. Moose says:

    I dunno, info, who was in control of the Congress for most of that time?

  3. DensityDuck says:

    Hi, I’m “inflation”, you might have heard of me? No? Well, go read my Wikipedia page, it’s fascinating stuff! Especially the part that explains how a mere dollar increase doesn’t necessarily represent an increase in overall purchasing ability.

  4. David Axe says:


    Cato’s response to Heritage’s GDP argument takes into account inflation. In other words, Obama’s first base military budget represents a 4-percent increase, after inflation.

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