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Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks as she introduces the Zero Waste Act at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 25, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks as she introduces the Zero Waste Act at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 25, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks as she introduces the Zero Waste Act at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 25, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher December 13, 2019

Rep. Ilhan Omar's claim that the US spends 57% of the federal budget on defense is wrong. It's 15%

The Progressive, a 110-year-old national magazine based in Madison, Wis., calls itself "a voice for peace, social justice, and the common good!" 

It published an article Dec. 1 about Rep. Ilhan Omar saying the Democratic Minnesota congresswoman "wants to redefine U.S. foreign policy as we know it."

Omar elaborated on her philosophy by addressing military spending.

"We can fight to have our Green New Deal. We can certainly get Medicare for All. We can cancel out student debt. We can certainly pass our Housing for All bill. We can get a universal school meals program up and running," she said. 

"But in order to do all of those things, we have to stop policing the world, right? We have to not have over 800 military bases around the world. We have to not spend 57 cents on the dollar on defense."

Omar’s major claim is wrong. 

Defense spending accounts for only 15% of the federal budget.

57% was wrong before

In 2015, we rated as False a claim that 57% of federal spending goes to the military and just 1% goes to food and agriculture, including food stamps.

Rather than being dominated by the military, the budget was actually dominated by spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, we found.

At the time, military spending, including spending on homeland security, accounted for 54% of discretionary spending — that is, not-mandatory spending. 

But it accounted for only 16% of federal spending overall.

"This is a common mistake," Robert Bixby, executive director of the centrist Concord Coalition, which works for fiscal responsibility, said about Omar’s claim.

In fact, a spokesman for the congresswoman said Omar was referring to discretionary funding. He cited a Washington Post article that says defense would be 57% of discretionary spending in the 2020 federal budget request unveiled by President Donald Trump in March 2019.

Featured Fact-check

Defense percentage steady

The percentage of the total federal budget spent on defense has been in the same range for years.

2007: 19%, FactCheck.org found

2011: About 25%, according to the Washington Post Fact Checker

2017: 15% according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Currently, about 17% of the federal budget goes toward defense, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office — a figure confirmed to us by Marc Goldwein of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. 

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation puts the figure there, too, at 15%

As for the dollars, the 2018 federal budget contained, according to a June 2019 report by the Congressional Budget Office:

• $1.3 trillion went to discretionary spending, including $600 billion for defense. That would be about 46%.

Total outlays were $4.1 trillion, with defense getting $623 billion. That’s 15%.

The 15% figure also holds true for 2019, as well.

Our ruling

Omar said the U.S. spends "57 cents on the dollar on defense."

Overall, defense accounts for about 15% of the federal budget.

Her figure is roughly in the ballpark when considering only discretionary federal spending, but she did not say that.

We rate Omar’s statement False.

Our Sources

The Progressive, "Ilhan Omar and the Politics of ‘Radical Love,’" Dec. 1 2019

Email, Rep. Omar Ilhan spokesman Jeremy Slevin, Dec. 13, 2019 

PolitiFact, "Pie chart of 'federal spending' circulating on the Internet is misleading," Aug. 17, 2015

FactCheck.org, "Ben & Jerry’s Misleading Spending Chart," Dec. 9, 2007

Washington Post Fact Checker, "Fact-checking Americans on the budget," March 12, 2011

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, "Policy Basics: Where Do Our Federal Tax Dollars Go?" Jan. 29, 2019

Congressional Budget Office, "Defense and National Security," Dec. 13, 2019

Congressional Budget Office, "Discretionary Spending in 2018: An Infographic," June 18, 2019

Congressional Budget Office, "The Federal Budget in 2018: An Infographic," June 18, 2019

Congressional Budget Office, "Monthly Budget Review: Summary for Fiscal Year 2019," Nov. 7, 2019

Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a fiscal policy-focused think tank, "U.S. Defense Spending Compared To Other Countries," May 3, 2019

Email, Marc Goldwein, senior vice president and senior policy director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Dec. 13, 2019

Washington Post, "What Trump proposed in his 2020 budget," March 12, 2019

Email, Robert Bixby, executive director of the centrist Concord Coalition, which works for fiscal responsibility, Dec. 13, 2019

Email, Steve Ellis, executive vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tracks federal spending, Dec. 13, 2019

Email, former U.S. Senate Budget Committee staff member Gordon Gray, who is director of fiscal policy at American Action Forum, which describes itself as a center-right think tank, Dec. 13, 2019

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Rep. Ilhan Omar's claim that the US spends 57% of the federal budget on defense is wrong. It's 15%

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