By David Cay Johnston
Soon, we will get the president’s proposed fiscal 2014 spending plan. Much attention will focus on Social Security and Medicare, which have been flashpoints lately. Meanwhile, if coverage in years past is any guide, we can expect stories from many news outlets that will significantly understate a third huge slice of spending—the real costs of military and other national defense spending.
Chuck Hagel, on the griddle now as President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, famously called the Defense Department “bloated,” in a 2011 interview with Financial Times. But budget stories then and now tend to report on the base budget from the Department of Defense, leaving readers with the impression that that is the full cost of fulfilling the Constitutional mandate to “provide for the common defence.”
It isn’t. From the perspective of taxpayers who must bear the burden, total national security costs are as much as 2.5 times the base Defense budget. Reporters might want to take a look at the true costs, and not just at the way the White House prepares the budget and Pentagon spins it.