Budget Agreement Leaves Defense Spending ‘Relatively Untouched’

The Washington Post reports today that “more than half of the $38 billion in spending cuts” the White House and congressional leaders agreed to last Friday “in the 2011 budget compromise that averted a government shutdown would hit education, labor and health programs.” But it looks like the deal has taken a page from the Paul Ryan playbook because, as Defense News reports, “defense spending is left relatively untouched.” New America Foundation fellow Romesh Ratnesar expounds:

The budget compromise reached by the White House and Congress this weekend included a “historic amount of cuts,” as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate majority leader Harry Reid said in their joint statement announcing the deal. “The largest annual spending cut in our history,” boasted President Obama. […]

And yet there is one, massive piece of the federal budget that these brave hawks dared not touch: defense. Not a solitary penny of the $38 billion in spending cuts will come out of the Pentagon’s coffers. In fact, defense spending will increase by $5 billion over 2010 levels, to $513 billion. And that doesn’t even include the cost of ongoing “overseas contingency operations,” otherwise known as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The defense budget represents 20 percent of the overall budget (50 percent of the discretionary portion) and has nearly doubled over the past 10 years. Total defense spending is now higher in real terms than at any time since the Second World War and the U.S. spends 43 percent of total military spending world wide — six times more than China. Moreover, “the U.S. and its allies possess 80% of the world’s economic and military power.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates even recently questioned why the Navy needs 11 carrier battle groups when no other country can match one (Gates then refused to endorse scaling back these programs).

Yet, what did both Democrats and Republicans cut in the budget deal? As Pat Garofalo noted, the plan cuts funding primarily for “programs upon which the middle-class and low-income Americans depend,” such as community health centers, green jobs funding, state and local law enforcement, the WIC program, infectious disease prevention, the NIH and Pell Grants for higher education. At the same time, the deal actually increases baseline Defense spending by $5 billion.

So given that the United States clearly has room to scale back its military spending, why does the Pentagon’s budget get ignored? Some have argued cutting defense spending is tantamount to political suicide. However, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last month found that a majority of Americans prefer cutting defense spending to reduce the deficit over taking money from other popular social programs. So it appears the American people are on board, now it’s Washington’s turn.