The Weekly Standard continues to rally conservatives against a debt ceiling agreement, under the slightly awkward platform of insisting that the country faces an existential debt crisis while demanding no tax increases or cuts to defense. Part of the campaign involves insisting that defense spending has not actually increased at all in recent years. Jeffrey H. Anderson writes:
How are we accruing such colossal sums of debt?
President Obama and many members of Congress seem to think that defense spending is largely to blame. Is it?
According to the White House Office of Management and Budget (see Table 4.2), during the middle of the John F. Kennedy administration, in 1962, defense spending accounted for 47 percent of total federal spending — nearly half — while spending by the Department of Health and Human Services (then named the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare) accounted for just 3 percent. Today, defense spending accounts for just 19 percent of total federal spending, while spending by Health and Human Services (HHS) accounts for 24 percent. In 2016, according to White House estimates, defense spending will account for just 15 percent of total federal spending, while spending by HHS will account for 27 percent.
Anderson helpfully includes this chart:
You may notice that the chart does not indicate actual levels of defense spending. It merely compares it to federal health care spending, which has certainly exploded. So -- has defense spending actually grown? Well, yes, per the Congressional Budget Office:
Obviously, the rise in defense spending does not prove that it's desirable to cut defense spending. Perhaps defense spending has risen because our military needs have grown. (And perhaps federal health care spending has risen because the cost of providing medical care has skyrocketed! Nah.) In any case, if you want to defend the Standard's crusade not to touch a hair on the head of the defense budget, you need to actually make the case that there's nothing in the military budget that can be safely cut. Making misleading charts to suggest defense hasn't contributed to the budget deficit isn't very persuasive.