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Where Biden’s FY2023 funding proposal ranks among postwar military budgets
Speaking Security Newsletter | Advisory Note for Activists and Candidates, n°153 | 6 April 2022
Biden’s two claims about his military budget proposal
When Joe Biden described his military budget request for fiscal year 2023 as “among the largest investments in our national security in history” he was essentially making two claims. The first relates to where his proposed military budget ranks historically, and Biden was certainly right to say that it would be “among the largest” in US history. Adjusted for inflation, Biden’s proposed level of military spending is higher than any enacted level since World War II, save for the stretch of military budgets between 2009 and 2012 that funded the US troop surge in Afghanistan and a significant military presence in Iraq. During this four-year period, the total number of deployed US troops in these countries ranged from 80,000 to 200,000.
While Biden’s first claim (re: “largest investment”) is empirically verifiable, his second requires a leap of faith. By characterizing his proposed military budget as an “investment in our national security” he’s equating the act of increasing the Pentagon budget with the outcome of security. Leaning into this (purportedly) causal link, Biden’s implication is that the historic level of military spending he’s proposing would yield a historic level of security.
Because security is socially constructed and determined by a ton of different variables, more military spending obviously doesn’t automatically mean more security, particularly because it crowds out funding for non-military programs that do have a credible link with security outcomes. But Biden appears to have structured his discretionary budget request based on that belief: Pentagon spending dominates his FY2023 proposal at the expense of non-military funding (particularly for climate).
Methodology for chart
Figures refer to outlays for ‘national defense’ and includes discretionary and mandatory spending. The Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) historical tables 6.1 and 10.1 were used for this analysis. The former dataset provided the national defense outlays between 1947 and 2021 (outlays for 2022 and 2023 were projected based on White House data [Table 25-1 Policy: Net budget authority by function, category, and program]) and the latter was consulted for the GDP Chained Price Index to adjust for inflation. The Department of Defense uses its own deflators, however, the defense deflators tend to attribute too much of the cost growth in some accounts to inflation, which in turn understates the growth of the Pentagon budget across time. As were the outlays for 2022 and 2023, the GDP deflators for those years were estimated, too, based on OMB figures.