Defense Spending Set to Double Pre-Sept. 11 Levels Later This Year

If Congress approves President Donald Trump’s request to lift the annual cap on national defense funding in the upcoming fiscal 2018 budget year, it would push the government’s annual defense spending to more than twice what it was before 9/11.

The mark could be broken even earlier than that. To date, Congress has approved $583.7 billion in defense funding for fiscal 2017, almost twice the $295 billion the Pentagon was authorized to spend in 2000, according to Congressional Budget Office.

But the White House is seeking an additional $30 billion in funding for overseas military operations aimed at curbing terrorism, and approval of that before Sept. 1 could make 2017 the year defense spending officially doubled pre-attack levels.

Joint Session

At an event in London April 19, House Speaker Paul Ryan was optimistic there would be more Pentagon funding. 

“We believed we could reap this peace dividend. That was prior to 9/11. So we went into peace dividend times where we did more butter, less guns. And then 9/11 came. And then we got fatigued from that and then we started retrenching and lowering our defense expenditures and our readiness,” Ryan said at Policy Exchange. “We now have weariness of that.” 

For 2018, Trump has requested $603 billion for day-to-day Pentagon operations, excluding overseas anti-terror efforts. That would be about $54 billion over the defense cap in the 2011 Budget Control Act, which included limits on both defense and non-defense spending appropriated by Congress annually. 

While Trump proposes to boost defense funding above the cap, the overall amount of regular appropriations would remain the same, as the White House wants the difference to come out of non-defense funds.

That idea has been slow to receive much support on Capitol Hill from lawmakers tired of cutting non-defense spending. But if past history is a guide, Ryan is correct. The CBO in 2014 noted core defense funding—excluding overseas anti-terror operations—had risen by 31 percent from 2000 to 2014 after adjusting for inflation.