CBO: $2.8 Trillion in Defense Spending by 2015

By Matt Cover | February 22, 2011 | 4:01am EST

In this Feb. 2, 2010, file photo Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, right, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, hidden at left, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

(CNSNews.com) – The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that over the next five years the federal government will spend a total of $2.8 trillion in defense spending, not counting the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The figure comes from the CBO’s annual review of the long-term implications of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) annual budget request. Because defense programs often have multi-year costs, both CBO and DOD provide estimates of how much they will ultimately cost the federal government.

According to both CBO and DOD estimates, the Pentagon will need $2.8 trillion in discretionary spending from 2011 to 2015, the report finds. That cost does not include the continuing costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, for which neither the Pentagon nor the CBO can provide accurate estimates.

The CBO reports that the Defense Department’s normal budget has already returned to Cold War-era highs (in inflation-adjusted dollars) --$537 billion for fiscal year 2010 – and projects it to eclipse those levels in the coming years. The CBO projects that by 2015, DOD’s annual budget will be $615 billion, $234 billion more than it needed in 2001.

The vast majority of DOD’s budget request – $341 billion – covers what the military calls “Operations and Support,” a catch-all term that encompasses military salaries, operations and maintenance of equipment, and medical care for active and retired troops.

These costs will grow faster than the economy – 3.3 percent – from 2011 until 2015, largely as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, before leveling off at a rate of 1.8 percent between 2015 and 2028, the CBO projected.

The CBO took care to note that its estimates are not projections of future defense spending, but of the long-term costs of the Pentagon’s current plans.

“Neither of the two sets of projections [CBO’s and DOD’s] should be viewed as predictions of defense spending in the future; rather, they are estimates of the costs of executing DoD’s current plans,” the CBO wrote.

While defense spending will well exceed Cold War-era levels in the coming years, it will not approach the share of the economy for which defense spending once accounted. Defense spending averaged six percent of GDP at its height in the 1980s, the CBO noted – a share it would not come close to eclipsing despite the ever-increasing cost of the Pentagon’s current plans.

“Although the costs of DoD’s base budget would increase under the CBO projection, that increase would not be as rapid as CBO’s current estimates of the future growth of the economy, so costs would decline as a share of GDP.

“Historically, that share fell from an annual average of 6.0 percent in the 1980s to 3.8 percent in the 1990s,” the CBO explained. “Under the CBO projection, defense funding in the base budget would decline to 3.0 percent of GDP by 2021 and to 2.7 percent by 2028.”

This means that while the defense budget will continue to grow, it will not become unsustainable in the same manner that entitlement spending and federal debt will, because the economy will grow faster than the Pentagon’s budget.

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