Matthew Yglesias writes:

I think it’s worth emphasizing the fact that defense spending isn’t primarily about waste. As with Medicare, in a program the size of the DOD you’re going to have some waste and it’s worth minimizing the waste, but the main reason the programs are expensive is because they’re ambitious. Medicare gives medical care, with almost no limit, to every senior citizen in America. The US Department of Defense is seeking to implement a strategy of worldwide military domination. That’s expensive.

What’s also worth emphasizing is that this is in some ways the same problem. That is: health care is a military expense as well. For instance, see Todd Harrison’s assessment from last week about the objective pressures reflected within the defense budget (PDF):

As a result of the increases in military pay and benefits over the past decade, the total cost per active duty troop (including mandatory and discretionary spending) has risen at an annual rate of 5.3 percent above the rate of inflation. Much of this growth is due to increases in non-cash and deferred compensation, such as healthcare, retirement pensions, and other benefits, which now make up 52 percent of total military compensation.In comparison, this far exceeds the private industry average of 29 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. DoD civilian employees, most of whom are paid from the O&M budget, received similar pay increases as their military counterparts. However, total compensation for DoD civilians has not grown at the same rate as members of the active duty military because DoD civilians have not received comparable increases in benefits.

O&M funding more than doubled in real terms over the past decade. a substantial portion of this was due to the wars in Iraq and afghanistan and healthcare-related costs.

All of this is a wonky way of saying that it costs a lot of money to care for the human expenses of a military that a lot of people still consider undermanned. It’s not to say that there isn’t a ton of expenditure-related waste, because Lord knows there is. But much like the deficit and healthcare, the military budget and the healthcare budget can’t be considered extricable problems. Human beings need health care. You don’t want unhealthy people defending your country. And you had better keep faith with them after they end their military tenure.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman