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Manuela Tobias
By Manuela Tobias August 1, 2018

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez overplays defense budget increase

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the democratic socialist who beat incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in a New York primary race, has some ideas on how to finance programs that she supports, such as Medicare for All.

In a recent interview with the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, she said Congress should cut frivolous defense spending to pay for a wider social safety net.

"Just last year we gave the military a $700 billion dollar budget increase, which they didn’t even ask for," Ocasio-Cortez said July 26. "They were like, we don’t want another fighter jet! Don’t give us another nuclear bomb. They didn’t even ask for it. And we gave it to them."

Did the military get a $700 billion dollar raise — that they didn’t even ask for?

First off, Ocasio-Cortez fudged the figures, which her campaign acknowledged in an email.

Congress gave the military a $61 billion increase from fiscal year 2017 to 2018. The total military budget for 2018 was $700 billion. That includes the Department of Defense and elements of other agencies, chiefly Energy Department programs pertaining to nuclear weapons.

For 2018, that’s more money than President Donald Trump’s budget requested (roughly $668 billion). The 2019 spending level, $716 billion, is exactly what Trump requested.

Through its Office of Management and Budget, the White House negotiates with the Defense Department to determine a budget. But settling at a lower number doesn’t mean military leaders don’t want more money, said Susanna Blume, senior fellow of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security.

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In addition to the budget, each military branch (Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force) submits an annual list to Congress of items they want but were not able to include in the annual budget request for perceived lack of budgetary wiggle room.

That wish list would have pushed the budget request to $700 billion in 2018.

When Defense Secretary James Mattis testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 6, 2018, he echoed that request. (The fiscal year 2018 budget became law March 23.)

"Failure to modernize our military risks leaving us with a force that could dominate the last war but be irrelevant to tomorrow's security," Mattis said. "We need Congress to lift the defense spending caps and support the budget for our military of $700 billion for this fiscal year and $716 billion for next fiscal year."

Obama usually requested more money than Congress granted (unlike Trump, whose proposed 2018 budget was upped by Congress). But Blume said it’s not unusual for things to shake out in this way, either.

Our ruling

Ocasio-Cortez said, "Just last year we gave the military a $700 billion dollar budget increase, which they didn’t even ask for."

That’s the total defense budget for 2018, which marks an increase in $61 billion from 2017. (Her campaign acknowledged this point.) It is more than the Defense Department settled in negotiations for Trump’s budget request ($668 billion), but exactly what they requested in their annual wishlist to Congress.

We rate this statement False.

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"Just last year we gave the military a $700 billion budget increase, which they didn’t even ask for."
In an interview on "The Daily Show"
Thursday, July 26, 2018

Our Sources

Comedy Central, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez bringing moral courage to American politics, July 26, 2018

Email interview with Jeff Latzer, Ocasio spokesman, July 30, 2018

Phone interview with Susanna Blume, senior fellow of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, July 31, 2018

Email interview with Zachary Austin, research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute’s Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies, July 30, 2018

Email interview with Jacob Cohn, research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments,

Email interview with Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project and the director of Defense Budget Analysis at CSIS, July 31, 2018, 2018 Defense Budget Defers Buildup for Austerity, June 25, 2017, Omnibus Agreement Summary, 2018

CQ Congressional Transcript, House Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing on National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review, Feb. 6, 2018

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