With Defense Spending Likely to Rise, A Primer on How to Read the Numbers

By Chris Adams

Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to boost U.S. military strength, which means the Department of Defense could see a big bump in its spending.

But how can reporters get their arms around that $600-plus billion behemoth known as the Pentagon budget?

Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow at the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, talked with Paul Miller fellows about how to decode the defense budget. She started with the very definition of how much is actually being spent.

“You would have thought there were eight different defense budgets, because we all talk in different terms,” she said of the day the Trump administration released its fiscal 2018 budget framework.

Eaglen went over the different budgetary baselines used when talking about military spending; some of the differences deal with whether atomic energy spending, overseas contingency operations or spending on veterans is included. The baseline she employs is “budget function 050” – but regardless of which one reporters use, they need to be consistent when making year-over-year comparisons.

Eaglen also detailed the Pentagon’s different spending pots – from personnel, to procurement of weapons, to research and development, to the operations and maintenance fund that covers daily operating costs.

And she compared the different budgets – President Barack Obama’s,  Trump’s, and an alternative one in Congress – and decribed the timeline under which Congress will debate and ultimately approve one.

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