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Tom Feran
By Tom Feran February 18, 2011

Rep. Dennis Kucinich says defense spending consumes more than half the discretionary budget

President Obama submitted his 2012 budget proposal to Congress on Valentine's Day, but the debate on efforts to cut spending started weeks earlier. Rep. Dennis Kucinich opened it with a call to question the cost of wars.

"We can have a strong defense, but we are spending so much money that we are undermining our ability to be able to provide for the American people here at home," he said.

"One of the biggest causes of our soaring debt and economic insecurity ends up being Pentagon spending. The budget for the Pentagon consumes more than half of our discretionary spending."

PolitiFact Ohio wondered about that and took a closer look.

We turned to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and to the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan, liberal-leaning think tank that analyzes data to show how tax dollars are spent.

The federal budget has two types of spending, discretionary and mandatory.

Mandatory spending, also called direct spending, refers to outlays required by law. It includes such entitlement programs as Social Security and Medicare, veterans' benefits, food stamps, education and health programs.

Mandatory spending is about two-thirds of the total budget. The problem of dealing with the politically charged entitlements is why balancing the budget is so difficult.

Discretionary spending is the part of the budget governed by the annual appropriation process and debated by Congress. That category includes "defense" (which does not include all military-related spending), security, agricultural subsidies, education, health programs, highway construction and housing assistance.

Discretionary defense outlays in fiscal 2010, which ended in October, were $689 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Non-defense outlays were $677 billion, or less than half the total.

For fiscal 2011, the CBO projects an even larger percentage of the discretionary budget -- 58 percent -- is military.

Discretionary spending on the military has been trending up for more than a decade. From 2001 to 2010, it increased by 71 percent -- almost three times the rate of increase in domestic discretionary spending, which rose about 24 percent.

Nonsecurity-related discretionary spending accounts for only about 15 percent of the $3.5 trillion total budget.

We leave the question of whether that’s good policy for others to debate. But as to Kucinich’s statement, we rate his claim as True.

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Our Sources

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, statement on the House floor, Jan. 24, 2011

Tax Policy Center, The Tax Policy Briefing Book, "How does the federal government spend its money?"  April 22, 2009

National Priorities Project, "Federal Discretionary and Mandatory Spending"

Congressional Budget Office, "Discretionary Spending," May 5, 2010

Congressional Budget Office, "Discretionary Defense Spending,"  June 9, 2010

Congressional Budget Office, "Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2011 Through 2021," January 2011

National Priorities Project, "The Discretionary Budget: Military v. Non-Military," September 2010

Wall Street Journal, "CBO Report Fuels Budget Debate," Jan. 26, 2011

Congressional Budget Office, "Long-Term Implications of the 2011 Future Years Defense Program," February 2011

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Rep. Dennis Kucinich says defense spending consumes more than half the discretionary budget

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