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Is Defense Spending Driving Our Debt?

10:00 AM, Jul 8, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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We are $14.481 trillion (and counting) in debt.  That’s up from $293 billion 50 years ago.  It’s up from $9.986 trillion when President Obama was poised to take office at the end of 2008 (see Table S-9).  Heck, it’s up $14 billion (more than the annual profits of Coca-Cola, Disney, or Conoco-Phillips) from just five days ago.  How are we accruing such colossal sums of debt?

defense v. HHS

President Obama and many members of Congress seem to think that defense spending is largely to blame.  Is it?

According to the White House Office of Management and Budget (see Table 4.2), during the middle of the John F. Kennedy administration, in 1962, defense spending accounted for 47 percent of total federal spending — nearly half — while spending by the Department of Health and Human Services (then named the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare) accounted for just 3 percent.  Today, defense spending accounts for just 19 percent of total federal spending, while spending by Health and Human Services (HHS) accounts for 24 percent.  In 2016, according to White House estimates, defense spending will account for just 15 percent of total federal spending, while spending by HHS will account for 27 percent.

So HHS is on track to go from 3 to 27 percent of total federal spending — and skyward from there — while the Defense Department is on track to go from 47 to 15 percent.  Defense spending is clearly not driving our debt.

HHS, of course, is the department that runs Medicare and Medicaid, and which would run ObamaCare as of 2014 (when it would really go into effect) if it isn’t repealed first

The following chart shows the trajectory of spending by the Departments of Defense and of Health and Human Services across the past 50 years, as well as their projected spending across the next five years, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget (see Table 4.2):


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