Defense cuts: three things Americans should know

The House of Representatives approved in July a bill that’s likely to spark a showdown on military spending. In the face of looming defense cuts and amped-up warnings on Capitol Hill, there are three things that experts wish every American – and politician, for that matter – knew about the Pentagon’s financial state of affairs.

1. America today spends more on defense (even adjusting for inflation) than it did during the Reagan buildup

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File
The US Capitol building is seen November 2011, in Washington.

Supporters of robust defense spending tend to justify these expenditures by claiming that the world is much more dangerous today. 

“[T]he evidence for that is pretty thin,” says Christopher Preble, vice president for defense and policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “The Soviet Union on its worst day was capable of ending life on this planet in a few minutes. It could do more damage in a few minutes than Al Qaeda has managed to inflict in over a decade.”

Still, the United States continues to spend some $520 billion every year – plus the costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars – for US military operations. In an acknowledgement of this, Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R) of South Carolina and Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts proposed an amendment to freeze Pentagon spending at current levels. It passed with support from 158 Democrats and 89 Republicans, and the House voted July 19 to give the Pentagon $607 billion in total this year. This is more than the Senate – which has yet to propose its own version of the defense bill – or the White House says it wants.

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