Today, the Senate is holding hearings over the confirmation of former CIA chief Leon Panetta as the new Secretary of Defense. Panetta is being probed about a variety of issues, from his views on Libya to his stance on procurement.
At one point during the hearing today, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) asked Panetta if he agrees with the view of outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that the defense budget is not a serious factor in the U.S. budget deficit. Panetta responded that he agreed with this view and said the department’s budget is not the cause of the deficits that we’re incurring today:
CORNYN: It’s important to me and it’s important to you to make financial management reform one of your priorities. I would just ask you the straight up question do you agree with Secretary Gates when he said that the defense budget no matter how large it may be is not the cause of the fiscal woes?
PANETTA: I agree with that. It is by no means the cause of the huge deficits we are incurring today.
While it’s true that the defense budget alone is not the only cause of our deficits — the Bush tax cuts, recession, and wars are all larger short-term deficit-drivers — it’s also true that defense spending currently makes up a lion’s share of our discretionary spending, as this chart from the National Priorities Project depicting FY2010 spending shows:
U.S. defense spending dwarfs over one hundred countries’ GDPs, and 2009 spending is over $500 billion more than what China reportedly budgets, the world’s next highest military spender. Defense spending has accounted for 65 percent of the discretionary spending increase since 2001, making it a key factor in the growth of the U.S. budget deficit since then. Any serious effort at reducing the U.S. budget deficit must recognize that the Department of Defense is a huge part of the problem. (HT: @deviatar)