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Here’s Why Trump’s Military Spending Goals Will Be Tough to Meet

Trump says he’ll call for a 10 percent increase in military spending, but making budget cuts elsewhere could prove unpopular with his base.

By Dwyer Gunn


(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Earlier today, the White House announced that President Donald Trump’s upcoming budget will call for an increase of $54 billion (or approximately 10 percent) in defense-related spending. The spending will be paid for by budget cuts elsewhere (the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of State, and some social safety net programs are being targeted), although administration officials told the New York Times that Medicare and Social Security, which the president promised to protect during the campaign, would be shielded.


(Chart: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

This will be, to put it mildly, extremely difficult to pull off. The chart to the left, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank, illustrates how the government spent its $3.7 trillion budget in fiscal year 2015.

In fiscal year 2015, the United States government spent $888 billion dollars on Social Security (or 24 percent of the budget), $546 billion on Medicare (about 15 percent), and $602 billion (16 percent) on “defense and security related international activities.” The government spent another $223 billion (about 6 percent) on interest payments on the national debt, a spending category that is also (presumably) not vulnerable to budget cuts.

In other words, the categories that the administration either can’t touch (interest payments), has vowed not to touch (Social Security and Medicare), or is promising to boost spending for (defense) represent approximately 60 percent of the federal budget. The rest of the budget consists of spending on things like education; benefits for veterans; social safety net programs like Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and food stamps (all programs that disproportionately benefit white, working-class voters); and transportation infrastructure (another category in which Trump has proposed massive spending increases). Cuts to most of these programs and services may please budget hard-liners in the GOP, but they’ll be hugely unpopular with Trump’s base.