Debate over defense spending has become one of Washington's hottest topics. President Obama added fuel to the fire of speculation when he proposed an additional $400 billion in Pentagon spending cuts to help rein in federal spending. In a recent research paper from The Heritage Foundation, defense analyst Baker Spring takes issue with the argument that defense cuts are necessary to balance the budget. In, "The FY 2012 Defense Budget Proposal: Looking for Cuts in All the Wrong Places," he points out, "in FY 1992, the first year of the post-Cold War era, defense accounted for 25.2 percent of all federal programmatic outlays, excluding interest on the debt, while non-defense accounts accounted for 74.8 percent. Since then, defense spending as a percent of total outlays has decreased significantly while non-defense spending has increased. Not surprisingly, the major entitlements, including Medicare and Social Security, have experienced the greatest growth. Over the next five fiscal years, they will continue to be among the fastest growing components of the federal budget. Thus, defense spending has not been a primary cause of out-of-control government spending and the expanding national debt." Spring argues not only that defense should not be the primary target of cuts, but that the proposed Pentagon budget for FY2012 is too small and that future budgets are even more problematic. "The Administration's five-year budget projection makes the misplaced priorities even more evident," Spring notes, "In real dollars, the FY 2016 defense budget will be 13 percent below the estimated FY 2011 budget. This contrasts with a 17 percent increase in Medicare and a 16 percent increase in Social Security over the same period in real dollars."
Spring concludes that the primary focus of achieving budget discipline must be on the unrestrained growth in unsustainable entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. As for defense, "Congress needs to add more than $27 billion to the FY 2012 defense budget to preserve the overall size of the military, maintain military readiness, and modernize the military by putting it on track to buy the next generation of weapons and equipment." This level of funding, even accounting for efficiencies gained by eliminating wasteful and unnecessary Pentagon spending is required to sustain the military force needed to protect US vital national interests. These interests and the forces and budgets required to ensure them are described in another Heritage report "A Strong National Defense: The Armed Forces America Needs and What They Will Cost."