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The National Defense Budget in Public Hands

by Michael Higham, published

This election cycle is largely going to be come down to economic issues and policy. A recent study found a majority of Americans are shocked by the size of the defense spending and favor cuts to the department's budget.This comes just ahead of what is expected to be a week full of defense budget discussion in Congress.

With deficit spending and national debt becoming increasingly criticized and in accordance to debt ceiling deals made last fall and winter, cuts to the budget must be made. The National Defense budget has been decreasing for the past three years as our wars in the Middle East come to a close. What needs to be addressed is where and how much of the defense spending cuts need to be made. The Program for Public Consultation has published an extensive study to dig deep into public opinion and where the public stands on defense spending. The study was in collaboration with the Stimson Center and the Center for Public Integrity.

Neutral information and statistics along with opposing arguments were presented to those surveyed. While they found both sides of the arguments convincing, cutting defense spending in some way was widely favored by a majority of respondents. The amount that would be cut differed among those who were surveyed. In regards to military health costs, there wasn't a majority to raise premiums but a majority decided to raise co-pay for drug prescriptions.

The study also separated the results along party lines. Their results showed that two-thirds of Republicans surveyed and nine of ten Democrats reduced the defense budget. The aggregate amount cut, using the 2012 budget as a reference, was 12% among Republicans and 22% among Democrats. The overall average was an 18% reduction.

There was a great majority in favor of reducing expenses in nuclear weapons. The latest nuclear arms treaty between Russia and the U.S., New START, further reduced deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550. The international norm of nuclear disarmament promises there will be no return to the nuclear weapons budgets of the past.

Robert Kagan, a foreign policy scholar, would find continued defense spending cuts as misguided. Kagan is well know for his realist perspective on international affairs.

"I just think if we want to address the fiscal crisis, the very tiny fraction of that deficit that is the defense budget, it's not the place to be looking for the money," he said on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show.

The United States’ current Defense spending is nearly 1% of the Gross World Product (GWP). The country that ranks second in defense spending is China, spending $143 billion in 2011.

The specific number for how much is spent on defense depends on what’s included in the calculation. If the base budget is what is considered, then the number is at about $530 billion in 2012. This includes personnel costs, operations and maintenance, procurement, and research and development. When Overseas Contingency Operations are included, the number is $645 billion in total.

The 2013 Defense Budget Request shows slight reductions in military personnel, procurement and research and development, but a slight increase in operations and maintenance (O&M) for base budget. The overall effect is a $5 billion reduction in the base budget. OCO would get a slight increase in military personnel but a significant decrease in O&M. The total 2013 proposed defense budget gives a $32 billion reduction.

The entire study can be found here. While national defense spending is infinitely complex, it is still important to analyze where the public stands.

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