Home » Myth – Majority of Federal Budget is Defense

Myth – Majority of Federal Budget is Defense


A popular myth is “Defense is over half of the Federal budget”, yet few ever cite a source for their data. Even without a source for verification, this myth continues to persist, and it’s popularity among the uber-left continues to grow. But in an article comparing spending in 1956 and 2006 a few facts jump out: In 1956 defense spending was 60%, while entitlements were 22%. In 2006 defense spending shrunk to 20%, while entitlements grew to 60%.

In fiscal 2006, the federal government spent almost $2.7 trillion. Social Security ($544 billion), Medicare ($374 billion) and Medicaid ($181 billion) dominated. There was $199 billion more for payments to the poor, including the earned income-tax credit and food stamps, among others.

Over the last decades, defense spending is down as a part of the whole Federal budget, yet the myth continues. However, it’s easy to get details the article doesn’t provide as you receive an updated spending report every year — just look in your 1040 tax instructions (page 83 for the 2006 tax year, if you don’t have them, go to irs.gov and grab the PDF for form 1040 instructions). Look for the pie chart titled “Outlays for Fiscal Year 2005” to yield the following fiscal facts regarding spending.

Social security, Medicare, and other retirement 37%
Social programs 20%
Physical, human, and community development 10%
National defense,veterans, and foreign affairs 24%

Social spending is 67%, defense is 24%, and the other 9% is interest on debt and general government. How then does this myth continue? Perhaps because politicians themselves continue to repeat it, and very few in the media or elsewhere challenge its truth. Yet it’s simple to verify the facts, as the data is as readily available as your tax instructions.

It can be argued defense spending is too high or too low, but if we’re going to have that discussion, we should at least get the facts straight. And the fact is defense spending is not near half of the budget — the majority of spending is on social spending and entitlements, not defense.



  1. jelbert says:

    You don’t acknowledge that in the fiscal year of 2005, the cost of the two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) were not included in the budget. A bit disingenous – you think?

  2. You don’t acknowledge that in the fiscal year of 2005, the cost of the two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) were not included in the budget. A bit disingenous – you think?

    Nope. It’s data from the Federal government themselves. If you don’t like their accounting, complain to them about it. They publish in the 1040 instructions a pie chart, and social spending is 2/3 of the budget, while only 1/4 is defense.

  3. thad g says:

    Let’s hope Obama has the good sense to leave the costs of Obamacare and the bailout out of the budget, like Bush did on the costs of the wars. Then you can righly call Obama a conservative.

  4. rkr says:

    i’m a fiscal conservative, and i’d argue that defense needs discipline as much as social services need discipline. but you’d do yourself a favor when writing a post like this to show examples of somebody making this argument. give some examples of the “politicians themselves” saying that department of defense makes up the majority of the federal budget. otherwise, this appears to be a straw man argument.

  5. Richard says:

    I am a flaming liberal and I have never heard any one claim that Defense spending is a majority of the budget. Even if you did met someone like that, why pay attention to them?

    • It is quite common for me to hear that “defense spending gobbles half our taxes”, or constitutes half the budget. Whether they’re including the whole ball of wax vs. the discretionary budget, the claim is absurd on its face, or certainly due ignorance of how things are metted out. We’re talking the regular fed. budget here, not war funding which certainly is a shiny penny. Even allowing for the common Lefty tactic of claiming that social security and similar entitlements don’t count being “merely” transfer payments and thus not “real” expenditures, the claim is absurd.

  6. jay says:

    Yes most of our spending is on social programs and entitlements, but as soon as someone threatens to cut them, that candidate losses most their votes. Everyone over the age of 65 votes. And before long our budget won’t even be able to pay for social security and Medicare let alone everything else.

  7. Charlene Cheek says:

    The reason that defense spending was 60% of our budget in 1956, while it APPEARS to have shrunk to 20% in 2006, is because they figured the budget differently in 1956 than they did in 2006:
    During Vietnam, the govt. didn’t want the People to see how much of our budget was going to war–so they began adding in the Social Security & Medicare money into the discretionary budget–even though SS & Medicare money is NOT discretionary–it’s a separate fund & by law MUST be spent ONLY on SS & Medicare.
    When they added that huge amount of money to the discretionary budget–it made the entire “pie” APPEAR bigger, thus making the military budget APPEAR smaller by comparison.

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