Do the Percentages Vary from Group to Group?
U.S. Government says that military spending amounts to 20% of the budget, the
Center for Defense
Information (CDI) reports 51%, the Friends
Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) reports 43%, and the War Resisters
League claims 54%. Why the variation?
groups have different purposes in how they present the budget figures.
WRLs goal has been to show the percentage of money that goes to the military
(current and past) so that people paying or not paying their
federal taxes would know what portion of their payments are military-oriented.
Also, some of the numbers are for different fiscal years.
are at least five different factors to consider when analyzing the U.S. budget:
spending vs. total spending
authority vs. outlays
funds vs. unified budget
Spending. The Center
for Defense Information (CDI) has used "discretionary" spending budget
items that Congress is allowed to tinker with which excludes so-called
"mandatory" spending items (such as interest on the national debt and retirement
pay). WRL does not make such distinctions and lumps them together.
Military Spending. If the government does not have enough money to finance
a war (or spending for its hefty military budgets), they borrow through loans,
savings bonds, and so forth. This borrowing (done heavily during World War II
and the Vietnam War) comes back in later years as "hidden" military spending through
interest payments on the national debt.
How much of the debt is considered military varies from group. As
mentioned above, WRL uses 80% whereas FCNL uses 48%. Consequently, FCNL reports
that 43% of the FY2007 budget is military (29% current military and 14% past
military). WRL's figures are 54% of the FY2009 budget (36% current — which
includes 7% for Iraq & Afghanistan wars — and 18% past).
vs. Budget Authority. WRL uses "outlays" rather than "budget authority," which
is often preferred by the government, news media, and groups such as CDI. Outlays
refer to spending done in a particular fiscal year, whereas budget authority
refers to new spending authorized over a period of several future
years. Consequently, CDI reported $421 billion in FY2005 budget authority for
the military and $2,200 billion "over the next five years." While WRL reports
outlays of $803 billion, plus an anticipated $162 billion in supplemental spending
requests for Iraq and Afghanistan wars, plus $484 billion in past military spending totaling
just for FY2009.
vs. Agency/Department. Not all military spending is done by the Department
of Defense. For example, the Department of Energy is responsible for nuclear
weapons. Consequently, calculations of military spending should consider the function
of the budget item regardless of the department or agency in charge of it.
However, not everyone agrees what constitutes a military function. For example,
WRL includes the 70% of Homeland Security (which includes the Coast Guard),
and half of NASA in military spending, while other groups do not.
Funds vs. Unified Budget. WRL
uses "federal funds" rather than the "unified budget" figures that the government
prefers. Federal funds exclude trust fund money (e.g., social security), which
is raised separately (e.g., the FICA and Medicare deductions in paychecks) and
is specifically ear-marked for particular programs. By combining trust funds with
federal funds, the percentage of spending on the military appears smaller, a deceptive
practice first used by the government in the late 1960s as the Vietnam War became
more and more unpopular.
period are we talking about? Finally, there is some variation in figures
because different fiscal years are used. WRLs figures (above) are for
FY2009 (Oct. 1, 2008 to Sep. 30, 2009) as are the most recent U.S. government
figures. FCNL sometimes does their analysis for the most recent completed year
or FY2007 (Oct. 1, 2006 to Sep. 30, 2007).