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Two Big Errors Plague Budget Reporting

February 14, 2011

First error: "Pentagon Budget Cuts." They aren't cuts. The Defense Department talks about cutting its own budget--$78 billion over five years--and most reporting takes this at face value. It shouldn't. The Pentagon is following the familiar tradition of planning ambitious increases, paring them back, and calling this a cut.
By any normal measure, it's not a cut. Yes, less money is being budgeted for the Iraq war than we're currently spending. But the base military budget--where that $78 billion will come from--is four times larger than the war budget, and is still growing. Let's agree on a definition: a cut means budgeting less money for next year than we are spending this year. But the proposed figure of $553 billion to be spent on the base budget in 2012 is in fact 5 percent higher than was budgeted for 2011. Higher, that is, in real terms than any budget of the Bush administration, or indeed any budget since World War II.

Second error: Security spending is protected from the budget freeze. "Security spending" is supposed to include both military and non-military security tools. The Unified Security Budget task force reports each year on the budget's balance between them. Both our civilian and uniformed military leadership agree that the imbalance between them needs to be narrowed. Here is a quick indicator of this balance:

Table 1: DOD and State/International Programs (in billions of current dollars)

 

2010

2011 (CR)

2012

Dept. of Defense

$530.1

$549.1

$553.0

Dept. of State and International Programs

$49.3

$51.4

$50.9

Note: Does not include Overseas Contingency Operations

Table 2: DOD and State/International Programs

 

Change in CR over 2010

Change in 2012 over 2010

Change in 2012 over CR

Dept. of Defense

+2.1%

+1.2%

-0.9%

Dept. of State and International Programs

+2.8%

-0.2%

-2.5%

Note: Deflators from OMB, Budget of the U.S. Government, FY2012, Historical Tables, Table 10.1.

Table 3: Ratios of DOD to State/International Program Spending

2010

2011 (CR)

2012

10.8:1

10.7:1

10.9:1

The bottom line: the Defense Department's budget is protected; the State Department's budget is not. This budget would make the imbalance between them worse.

Miriam Pemberton is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She co-chairs the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget with Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress. Anita Dancs is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Western New England College, and a member of the Task Force.

To schedule an interview, contact Erik Leaver 202-234-9382 x 5240 (o); 240-535-8725 (m); erik@ips-dc.org

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