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Recent months have seen a flurry of headlines about cuts (often called “threats”) to the US defense budget. Last week, lawmakers in the House of Representatives even passed a bill that was meant to spare national security spending from future cuts by reducing school-lunch funding and other social programs.
Here, then, is a simple question that, for some curious reason, no one bothers to ask, no less answer: How much are we spending on national security these days? With major wars winding down, has Washington already cut such spending so close to the bone that further reductions would be perilous to our safety?
In fact, with projected cuts added in, the national security budget in fiscal 2013 will be nearly $1 trillion—a staggering enough sum that it’s worth taking a walk through the maze of the national security budget to see just where that money’s lodged.
If you’ve heard a number for how much the United States spends on the military, it’s probably in the neighborhood of $530 billion. That’s the Pentagon’s base budget for fiscal 2013, and represents a 2.5 percent cut from 2012. But that $530 billion is merely the beginning of what the United States spends on national security. Let’s dig a little deeper.
The Pentagon’s base budget doesn’t include war funding, which in recent years has been well over $100 billion. With US troops withdrawn from Iraq and troop levels falling in Afghanistan, you might think that war funding would be plummeting as well. In fact, it will drop to a mere $88 billion in fiscal 2013. By way of comparison, the federal government will spend around $64 billion on education that same year.
Add in war funding, and our national security total jumps to $618 billion. And we’re still just getting started.
The US military maintains an arsenal of nuclear weapons. You might assume that we’ve already accounted for nukes in the Pentagon’s $530 billion base budget. But you’d be wrong. Funding for nuclear weapons falls under the Department of Energy (DOE), so it’s a number you rarely hear. In fiscal 2013, we’ll be spending $11.5 billion on weapons and related programs at the DOE. And disposal of nuclear waste is expensive, so add another $6.4 billion for weapons cleanup.
Now, we’re at $636 billion and counting.
How about homeland security? We’ve got to figure that in, too. There’s the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which will run taxpayers $35.5 billion for its national security activities in fiscal 2013. But there’s funding for homeland security squirreled away in just about every other federal agency as well. Think, for example, about programs to secure the food supply, funded through the US Department of Agriculture. So add another $13.5 billion for homeland security at federal agencies other than DHS.