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It Isn't Defense Spending That Bloats the Budget

NO sooner was the first hammer applied to the Berlin Wall than the big spenders of the US Congress rushed to refashion American swords into vote-buying pork projects. The cold war has ended, rejoiced the big spenders, many of whom never admitted that the cold war ever existed. So why not shrink our "bloated" military and give us the left-over money to spend? At the core of their argument is the contention that US spending on fancy weapons is out of control, while spending on social progress has been miserly. It's the big lie that's still being used by an array of special-interest pleaders with expensive axes to grind.

Many a lie contains a half-truth. Some would tell you, for example, that an American taxpayer pays about three cents of every tax dollar to the military for every penny spent on domestic areas like health care, housing, and employment programs. What they won't tell you is that direct income taxes account for only 60 percent of federal government revenues.

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According to the Tax Foundation of Washington, D.C., the typical American family (two workers, $46,000 combined income, two dependent children) will pay $12,984 in 1991 federal taxes. Only $8,314 of that will be direct income taxes. To get a true picture of government priorities as reflected in spending, you have to add such indirect levies as employers' share of Social Security taxes, corporate income taxes, excise taxes on gasoline and liquor, and others. And when you do, not much is left of the anti- d

efense argument.

For that typical family, only 20 cents out of every total tax dollar will be spent on national defense. "Income security" (Social Security, federal retirement, unemployment) will get about 32 cents; interest on the national debt will get about 14 cents; health outlays 13 cents; education, environment, transportation, science, and the administration of justice, three cents each.

Spending on defense topped spending on domestic needs only during the World War II years (1942-46) and the height of the cold war (1951-61). The same holds true for spending as a percentage of gross national product. Not even during the Vietnam years did military spending outstrip social spending.

Military spending was 23.8 percent of the total in Jimmy Carter's first year and 22.7 percent in his last year. It was 23.2 percent in the first Reagan year, 26.7 percent in the first year of his second term, and 27.3 percent in his last year. Military spending fell to 23.9 percent in 1990 and the estimated share in 1992 will be 20.4 percent.

In contrast, spending on "human resources" (health, education, veterans benefits, income security, etc.) has risen from 30.5 percent of the total just before World War II to 54.2 percent in 1977. In 1990 it was 49.5 percent and will reach an estimated 51.7 percent in 1992. Add to that, since 1957, another 6 to 12.8 percent spending on "physical resources" (energy, environment, housing, transportation, and community development). Another 5 to 15 percent has been spent in the same period on "other functio n

s" (science, space, technology, agriculture, and justice). As a percentage of GNP, spending on human resources alone in 1990 was more than twice as high as military spending (11.5 percent to 5.5 percent).

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From 1982 to 1990 the federal budget has soared by $530 billion, while defense spending has gone up by only $85 billion. Defense took 26.7 percent of the budget in 1982 but only 22.5 percent in 1990.

The moral of the story? Since 1940, we've had four wars ranging in length from six weeks to eight years, and a handful of minor interventions. We are the world's leading military power. Yet less than one-fourth of the federal pie is devoted to military spending.

These facts are readily available. Why are the Pentagon-bashers so careless in their research? Perhaps the carelessness is deliberate. A federal treasury fattened with a so-called "peace dividend" can be a mighty temptation for the pork-barrelers.

This unseemly lust to spend more of the taxpayers' money is bad enough under any circumstances. It is worse when recent events remind us that the world is still a dangerous place.

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